Sunday, February 24, 2008
The Last Refuge Of a Scoundrel, Squared.
UPDATE, MAR. 18: The speech Obama plans to deliver tonight will address both the Pastor Wright brouhaha (question: do you want a President who blindly agrees with everything his pastor says, or who sticks by the church his family has belonged to for over two decades and where his children were baptized even when the pastor says something dumb?) -- and, incidentally, hopefully will settle once and for all the idiotic Internet rumors about him being Muslim. The question is whether America's brand of Christianity is ready for a radical message: that Obama can love his pastor as a person while repudiating his wrongs (loving the sinner while hating the sin). Sure, that's the morality that Jesus taught -- a quote from the Bible -- but is America open to it? I ask this in all seriousness as a Presbyterian elder: Obama seems to be acting in a Christian fashion but not everyone may recognize real Christianity when they see it.
UPDATE, FEB. 28: Obama continues to have to fight claims that he's a stealth Muslim, which (a) has, repeatedly, been shown to be untrue, and (b) shouldn't matter anyway -- what if he were? Yet people are both selling and buying claims that are both false and bigoted. America: we're supposed to be better than this!
UPDATE, FEB. 25: Firedoglake has a terrific and troubling post describing how the Associated Press -- under the guise of "objective journalism" -- is hyping the "Obama's not patriotic enough" meme -- and a suggestion for what you can do to help stop it.
ORIGINAL POST: There's an old saying that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." That's true, but only half, because a reasoned and reasonable patriotism, that emphasizes the importance of contributing and being loyal to one's own family, community, and nation without demonizing the "other", is also a hallmark of a healthy, honest person. I'm a patriot. That doesn't mean I hate the French. (More on this topic in various posts on my saner blog, The NeoProgressive.)
Now there's a third twist to this adage: accusing one's opponent of insufficient patriotism, which surely is the ultimate refuge of scoundrels whose own assertions of patriotism aren't credible enough. "I'm patriotic, and on top of that, you're not": the last refuge of a scoundrel, squared.
So, of course, in a campaign that's turning increasingly negative, at least on one side, Barack Obama now stands accused of insufficient patriotism.
It's offensive, it's wrong -- and it speaks incredibly ill of beveryone involved in propogating such bunk, especially Hillary Clinton and/or John McCain, who may be behind this.
Let's run through the truth and lies between several of the more persistent slanders against Obama:
Hand Over Heart: One of the Internet rumors going around has been that Obama refuses to place his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. That’s patently not true, as the photos up top show more convincingly than anything I could say.
This rumor does have some basis in fact, though: on one occasion, at a steak fry in Iowa, during the playing of the National Anthem, Obama didn’t place his hand over his heart. (FWIW, I always remove my hat during the National Anthem, but I never knew until now that I was supposed to place my hand on my heart, too.) Obama's spokesman later said that Obama sometimes places his hand over his heart during the Anthem and sometimes doesn't, which makes me think he may not be aware of the mandatory protocol but certainly doesn't mean he's unpatriotic. Attacking Obama for something that he, likes many (most?) other people may not even know is proper etiquette, is, in Obama’s words, “silly.”
American Flag Pin: Few people are aware of the Federal Election Commission regulation requiring all political candidates to wear an American Flag pin on their lapel. The same regulation also requires all male candidates to wear navy blue, two-button suits with white shirts and red ties for television appearances, to open all speeches with the words “My fellow Americans” and close them with “... and God bless America.” (A related regulation, called the “Ferraro Amendment”, also forbids female candidates from wearing pantsuits; Hillary Clinton must not have received that memo.)
OK, seriously: there are certain things it has become customary for politicians to do, like wear a color combination that happens to both look good on TV and coincidentally to contain the colors red, white and blue. Since 9/11, wearing an American Flag pin has been one of those things. However, that symbol has to some degree been coopted by conservatives; it’s code for “I’m really, really, really a patriot, and by the way, I support the war in Iraq.” It’s sort of like those yellow “Support the Troops” bumper stickers: we ALL support the troops, but it’s mainly conservatives who sport them (often on oversized SUVs that hurt our troops by increasing our reliance on foreign oil). It's a reasonable question to ask: who supports the troops more, a Republican driving a Hummer H2 with a yellow ribbon, or a Democrat driving a Prius hybrid with no ribbon?
So sometime in 2007, Obama made a public, and principled, decision to stop wearing the flag pin that he used to wear. Here's his explanation:
"You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin," Obama said. "Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest."
Later, he explained further:
"I'm less concerned with what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart," Obama said Thursday while campaigning in Independence, Iowa. "You show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who serve. And you show your patriotism by being true to your values and ideals. And that's what we have to lead with, our values and ideals," Obama said. "Instead," he said, "I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism."
You can agree or disagree with his reasoning, and you can like or dislike the fact that he doesn’t wear a flag pin – but it has nothing to do with his patriotism. He’s worn it before, he’ll wear it again, he’s making a statement about true vs. phony patriotism by not wearing it now.
Oh, and by the way: he's not alone in not wearing a flag pin. Hillary Clinton only wears one sometimes. John Edwards usually wore his deceased son's Outward Bound pin. Bill Clinton wears a Hillary pin. Most of the Republicans don't even wear one consistently.
Taking Money From a Violent 1960s Activist: The Weathermen were an antiwar, anti-establishment group that committed bombings in the 1960s. Basically, they were the liberal equivalents of conservative abortion clinic bombers – fringe extremists who believed so strongly in some driving principle that they thought it was moral to use violence to express it. Of course, they were wrong. Of course, the ones who used violence, or even conspired to use violence, belonged in jail – and they were, in fact, captured, tried, and jailed. In the 1960s. When Obama was eight years old.
One member of the Weathermen was William Ayres. He’s a bad person, in my book, because he still believes the Weathermen’s bombings were right. But he also was never accused or convicted of doing any bombings, and works as a professor at a well-respected, not particularly liberal state University (the University of Illinois in Chicago).
When Obama was a State Senator in Illinois – gaining experience as a politician and statesman was just a former First Lady – Ayres donated $200 to Obama. Obama, not having any idea who Ayres was, accepted it. Now his ignorance of a minor player in a long-dead group that was shut down when he was 8 years old is being held against him. I don’t even need to explain why that’s plain dumb. Someone with an ordinary name who associated with someone else who did a bad thing when you were 8, makes a small donation to your campaign, and suddenly you’re a terrorist sympathizer? Gimme a break.
While We’re On It, Let’s Put Obama’s Religion to Rest, Too: Finally, there are the persistent rumors that Obama was/is openly/is secretly a Muslim. Put simply: they’re not true. CNN and others have researched this thoroughly. The truth is that Obama is a Christian, and has belonged to the same Church of Christ in Chicago for 25 years. The Church of Christ, which some conservatives dismiss as “liberal”, actually is the only remaining descendant of the original, colonial Puritan churches that conservatives love to assert prove that America has always been a “Christian nation” (false, but that’s off topic). It’s hard to be more patriotic than to belong to a church that literally traces its ancestry back to the Mayflower; and if it’s “liberal” today, that’s because it still retains the same independent, democratic streak that the Puritans gave it 300 years ago: it’s highly decentralized (the way conservatives wish the government were), and each CoC congregation is permitted to decide for itself who its pastor will be, what their general theological framework will be, and how to govern themselves. That commitment to local democracy is what allowed the Puritans to deviate so radically from the “accepted” Christianity of their day, and allows an inner city Chicago church to differ somewhat – while still being Christian – from, say, the tenets of Jerry Falwell’s church in Lynchville, TN. That’s a good – I’d say even conservative, in the good old sense of the word – thing for a church to be, and it’s to Obama’s credit that he belongs to it.
So where do the Muslim rumors come from? Same place as always: by distorting a kernel of truth. Obama’s father, a Kenyan immigrant, was Muslim. He named his son – who was born in America, of course – with a common Kenyan Muslim name, Barack Hussein Obama. Then, when Barack was 2, his father left the family. Barack Obama’s Muslim father had zero influence on his son’s upbringing – or his religious faith.
Barack’s mother remarried, and she and his new stepfather moved briefly to Indonesia when Obama was young. Indonesia is a fascinating country: sandwiched between Australia and Southeast Asia, it’s the fourth most populous nation in the world. It contains a fascinating mishmash of cultures and religions (spread out among over 17,000 islands covering 3/4 million square miles -- not acres, miles -- of land spread over an even bigger expanse of ocean, it has to be). The most common religion there is Islam, though not the Wahabi brand of Islam that spawned Al Quaeda. And, just like the Christian preschools found everywhere in America, which even non-Christian families sometimes send their children to them, Muslim preschools are ubiquitous in Indonesia, and even non-Muslim families often send their children to them. That’s how, from ages 6 to 8, Obama attended a Muslim school in Indonesia.
Was that school a madrassa? NO. Again, check the CNN link above: A team of reporters actually visited the school, reviewed its old records, interviewed staff, and reported that when Obama was there, the school had Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Confucian (Chinese) students. Students did study the Koran during part of the day, but Obama got in trouble for goofing off during “Koranic studies.” It didn’t teach violence – and Obama left it when he was only eight.
What kind of school did he go to next? Catholic. And then he returned to the mainstream American educational system and was educated like any other kid.
That’s it: Obama’s horrible secret, his “Manchurian candidate” Muslim brainwashing. Like George Bush, Obama is a Christian. Unlike Bush, he’s a member of, and actually does his best to attend, a specific Christian church. And unlike Bush, who had never visited any country outside the U.S. except Mexico before he was selected President and who had difficulty grasping the concept that there was a difference between Shi’ite and Sunna Islam (a little like the difference between Catholics and Protestants), Obama has lived outside the U.S. and experienced other cultures and other faiths, including the faith that, in a perverted and narrow form, drives our nation’s main enemy today. That perspective, that knowledge, can only be an asset for a President trying to make good decisions, and untangle Bush’s messes, in an increasingly complex, multicultural nation and world.
There's a kind of peer pressure that goes with these mass-circulated emails and Yahoo! question/answers smearing a candidate. The best thing, of course, is to set it aside and think for yourself -- and that includes folks who are succumbing to the peer pressure to claim that Obama's supporters are succumbing to peer pressure -- to Just Say No.
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