Blogs 2004-2007,Part III

Kenneth Cauthen

Copyright © Kenneth Cauthen 2004-2007. All rights reserved.


Monday, June 11, 2007
A Strategy for John Edwards
I spent some time yesterday with The New York Times Magazine issue on economics, especially the piece on John Edwards, my candidate for President in 2008. He wants to fight poverty. The conclusion was that he has the personal passion , some good policies that will work, but he hasn't found a strategy to make it a winnable issue. I am a moralist who writes books on ethic, but I agree that appeals to conscience won't work very well here.

My suggestion is that he make his appeal to strengthening families, especially middle and lower-income families. This is a theme that can capture the imagination of large numbers of people because they have a personal interest in strengthening their families and need help.

He can organize a variety of proposals around this central focus, many of them designed to promote the incomes of average and low-income workers whose wages have been mainly stagnant in recent years, with some exceptions. For further elaboration of this, see my contribution dated Saturday, November 11, 2006.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Sorry State of Public Discourse
No good solution exists for Iraq, illegal immigration through Mexico, and abortion. Good means benefiting nearly everyone and hurting few or none, serving mostly worthwhile purposes and having few or no negatives. We have to search for the least bad policy or the best of available, workable ones. Yet who in public life clamoring for our votes is saying this? Many proposals are out there, but their sponsors see only the good in them and either don't know or don't say out loud what counts against it.

Which public voice is saying, 'Taking everything into account, by and large, generally speaking, this is the best available practical option. Even though it is not very good, it is the best we can do under the circumstances." Yet this is closer to the truth than all the confident claims that exaggerate the benefits and underplay the downside of whatever policy is being advocated.

Will people not hear or accept the notion that some problems are complex, ambiguous, and difficult, that only proximate solutions are available that try to achieve as much good and avoid as much that is bad that is possible under the circumstances? I don't know. Apparently our leaders think they won't, or they themselves don't know any better and are simply ignorant, naive, or purely opportunistic, i. e., look for the greatest political gain that they can milk out of the situation.

I have written in other blogs on this site of the particulars of Iraq, illegal immigration from out southern border, and abortion. Here let me say that each of these requires an "emergency" answer," i. e., a response to a dire situation that arises because something has gone wrong. Something went wrong in Iraq when we invaded and before, but now that we are in the tragic, catastrophic mess, we have to do the best we can. That probably means violence, chaos, and disorder if we leave, and more needless, futile loss of lives, perhaps a protracted civil war, if we stay. The only solution to the illegal entry of immigrants through Mexico is to make living conditions decent in their own countries so they can stay home and prosper instead of risking their lives to work for meager wages under exploitative conditions here employed by people who want an endless supply of cheap labor who will not complain about harsh working conditions due to their desperation. The only solution to the abortion issue is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Meanwhile, we live with the simplicities and shallowness that mark our public conversations because nobody wants to present the hard choices, ambiguities, and complexities inherent in problems. And isn't this because so many people want unambiguous certainties from their leaders? Or do they? And would they hear the hard truth if their leaders would talk straight to them instead of seeking advantages when their opponents dare to mention how difficult, complicated, and ambiguous choices really are when reality is confronted without blinking?

How do we account for the shortcomings in our democracy? We have shallow minds thinking in shallow ways about complex issues in a setting where honest conviction is mixed with the desire to get, keep, and expand political power in the struggle of competing self-interests -- the portions of integrity, conviction, and expediency varying from little to much in our lawmakers.

Besides that is the power of money and lobbies representing large or rich constituencies that distort the process in favor of the politically powerful driven by the self interest of corporations and highly organized groups like the National Rifle Association, the Religious Right.

I think the Founders envisioned or at least hoped for the presence of the best minds in the country who would take office devoted to the good of the Republic and not partisan goals of the rich and powerful. If you had that kind of person with that kind of character and devotion to the common welfare, then compromise would be the best we could get. The compromises we get are usually poor because the negotiating positions we start are so shallow and dictated by the interests of pressure groups.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Hillary's Judgment is the Big Issue

Hillary will not apologize for voting for the Iraq war. She ought to, but she won't. She says if she knew then what she knows now, she would not have voted the way she did. What she didn't know then was that the war would become so unpopular.

The big issue here is her judgment. Why didn't she know then that the war was a mistake? Lots of people did and rightly predicted what would happen. She made a wrong judgment when the evidence against her vote was available for all to see. She went along with Bush and made a colossal error of judgment.

Friday, February 09, 2007
Group Dialogue on Diversity and Equality

To Larry Greenfield and Ken Dean,
I would like to know you think about this book: The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality by Walter Benn Michaels.

It articulates clearly some ideas I have had for a long time but never saw the issue with this kind of precision and clarity. I suspect some overstatement. The standard question is why can't we work on both economic equality and diversity. I don't think he answers that sufficiently, but I think his main point is that liberals have substituted diversity (racial, gender, and cultural equality) for economic equality and have allowed the former to embrace and eclipse the latter. Liberals want respect for the poor but are mainly unconcerned about making them unpoor. He is convincing on that one as far as many liberals (I call them cultural liberals are concerned) are concerned. I take the faculty I worked with, especially the younger ones in the later years of my tenure, as a prime example of the truth of his main thesis.

Ken Cauthen
To Ken Cauthen,
From Ken Dean

Cynic, cynic, cynic. Of course there is truth in what this book says. I compare everything to what the situation was in 1965. Today, I went to Emory Hospital for some tests. The men who greeted me and took my car to be parker were Black. The woman on the desk in the entrance was Black. The secretary in the Nuclear Medicine Department where I was treated was Black. The professional who did my nuclear test( it lasted over three hours and required a specially trained technician) is Black. Her colleague is a woman Jew from Georgia (meaning Russia). Her boss, the doctor who heads up Nuclear Medicine Department is Black. The receptionist who handled my business in the Medical Records Department is Black. A special question I asked in that department was answered by a White, a woman. All this happened in a Methodist hospital which 40 years ago probably would not have welcomed a Black patient much less have had a staff this is simply as Black as it is White. And a Russian Jew; we were trying to have these people imprisoned in the 1960s.

We ain't where we ought to be, but we sure as hell ain't where we were. And, then there is your daughter and other two children. Each of them living life styles that were not permitted in the 1960s. I hope all this has something to do with process theology (which I do not claim to understand), but in it all I see more of the revelation of the good than I have ever known to characterize the world, East or West.

So, I think that we keep up identifying where we are coming up short, but that we not let this totally dominate the scene. As we age, we see things more clearly and this certainly justifies a strong dose of cynicism ( and I agree with the current Catholic Theologian who describes Jesus as a cynic---which is not exactly like what we mean by a cynic, but which is not all that different either when we are talking about ones world view), but I have some hope out of the progress I see being made. I agree that justice is found in economic opportunity and attainment, but not just at that level or just in that quarter. For me justice is equality in community.

Peace, teacher, peace, and thanks,

Kenneth Dean
To Ken Dean,
From Ken Cauthen
You do agree that Democrats and cultural liberals generally have been very quiet on making the poor unpoor but loud on diversity except when compared to Republicans, who want a lot of poor people as cheap labor. That is the point I took away. Of course, diversity counts and I rejoice as you do in all the progress made for blacks, women, and gays. But (cultural) liberals seem to think that is enough. The young faculty that inspired me to retire early did not give a damn about economic equality but they were hot on racial and cultural diversity and seemed to think that was enough. In fact they did not like poor people (and non-poor working class and labor union whites), very much unless they were black or female or needed an abortion because the poor were culturally backward on race and gender and sexual orientation, which they were, but they were poor and don’t need to be in this rich land. I don't think that is cynicism. I think that is realism. We need to be cultural liberals and economic liberals, like me
Ken Cauthen
To both Kens,
From Larry Greenfield

I guess I have a different take on this conflict between diversity and inequality. I certainly agree with the author that economic inequality has taken a back seat to diversity for most political, socio-cultural and theological liberals; I regret that even though I'm deeply committed to diversity for biblical and civic reasons. But, like KC, I don't understand why one has to be sacrificed for the other, especially when economic inequality has become so chronic (built into systems).

I'd want to add one other feature into the mix of diversity and inequality, however, and that is a truncated view of economic freedom. It seems to me that political and socio-political liberals have championed a position in economics that emphasizes individual preference over against some notion of the common good – and, therefore, have joined with the neo-liberals in a kind of individualism that is destructive of social bonds. (Many, though not all, of the neo-liberals argue for that social bond in terms of a "values" or "family values" agenda, without giving a sh*t about basic economic well-being, while liberals have eschewed both, in my humble judgment.)

What is largely absent from the public conversation, then, is a view that argues for what I would call "mutuality" in economics, politics, and social and cultural policies. This isn't strictly a point of view that gives top priority to equality or to diversity, and yet sees both as key elements of the good society. The good society, that is, is one that strives to encourage and establish a sense of the different components (persons and peoples and nature) all contributing to and receiving from one another in such ways that all flourish.

I'm indebted to my friend Chris Gamwell for developing this insight. But the more I have worked with it, the more I recognize that it is central to the biblical witness, to the best of America's democratic polity, and to MLK's notion of the beloved community (although recently I've tried to argue that even that notion--beloved community--has its roots in John 15:15). (In another recent effort I've substituted the notion of the "matrix of God" for this community of mutuality so as to make it more possible to think of "nature" having standing in the efforts to promote flourishing.

KC, I hope I haven't taken the discussion off-track by some misunderstanding on my part of what is in question. If so, please put me back on track.

All the best to both of you.

To Larry Greenfield and Ken Dean
From Ken Cauthen
Larry, I agree with your philosophical premises. I have said for a long time that the creation of wealth is a social product with organic features not the sum total of individual efforts, thus negating the views of Robert Nozick. I have also urged in two books that the just and good society will maximize freedom, equality, and social (common) good within the constraints each puts on the others. This is a rough and ready formula that is a general guide not a set of rules. Most views of justice have too many rules, make things too neat, whereas I think real life is messy, complicated, and requires a lot of phronesis, practical wisdom with much ad hoc muddling through contextually. I am a pragmatist with guiding principles.

There are some good signs like the ones you mentioned. Also, John Edwards has the best economic platform as he did in 04. That might be his undoing, but he is out there with a strong message on the war and the economy.,

Thank you both for your responses.


Thursday, February 01, 2007
What does Hillary believe, really?
Every time I hear Senator Clinton, she seems programmed. Everything is calculated not to offend anyone among her potential supporters. She is on both sides of every question within that framework. It's OK to offend those not within her reach as a candidate no matter what she says, but those who might be enrolled in her cause can find enough to identify with to make it appear as if she really is a champion of their cause.

She is smart enough to take both sides of the middle without any obvious contradiction. And the needle that defines the center of her orbit can move to the left or right as conditions or public opinion dictates.

Her position on the war epitomizes the approach. She voted for the war and has never said plainly that this was a mistake. She has criticized how the war was carried out. She has condemned the "surge," but, besides Laura, the family dog, and a precious few others, who hasn't? Lately, she has said that if she knew then what she knows now, she would have voted differently. But was her original vote wrong? Not that she has admitted in so many words.

And was not her recent visit to Iowa completely calculated to show her warm, soft, funny, down to earth side and how approachable, friendly, and charming she could be with no rough or sharp edges?

Who are you Hillary, –  really, I mean, when you are not in the programmed mode? The more I hear of her, the less attractive she becomes as a candidate. And who is that right behind her and moving fast? Is that you, Barack?

Saturday, January 20, 2007
Hillary Catches ON
Hillary finally catches on to what everybody else has known for a long time, .  e., she is running for President. But do we really want some one who is so late recognizing the obvious? She has still not been able to say that her vote for the Iraq war was a mistake -- a finely calculated position measured by its political implications, as is every word she says these days. As a citizen of New York State I remember all her coy remarks when asked if she would promise to serve a full term as Senator. Everybody knew she did not intend to, but she was allowed to play the game. Well, at last now she knows what everybody else does, except, of course, about the war..

Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Everybody/Anybody But Hillary
Everybody but Hillary has known for a long time that she would run for president in 2008. During the recent election she evaded the question and played the coy innocent whose intentions were barely concealed in her sidestepping maneuvers. First she said her concern was solely with winning reelection to the Senate and serving New York. Finally, she indicated that if her evasions were a problem for people, they should take that into account when they vote. How clever, since at that time her election was assured, and Democrats had no good alternative. Honesty may be the best policy, but apparently it is not considered to be good politics in these circumstances.

It is clearer day by day that she intended to run all along. Well, OK, but for many the cry will be "Anybody But Hillary."

Now with the Obama frenzy rising, she apparently is stepping up the time line to make her move. Short of some major unanticipated event, e. g., the return of Jesus, yes she will finally come to know what everybody else has known all along.

Until further notice my preference is for an Edwards/Obama ticket, but ABH.

Monday, November 20, 2006
Democrats, Take Note
Since 1968, i. e., since the cultural impact of "the 60's," Democrats have nominated presidential candidates from the Upper Midwest, the Northeast, and the Southeast. All from the first two groups lost– Humphrey, Minnesota, 68; McGovern, South Dakota, 72; Mondale, Minnesota, 84, Dukakis, Massachusetts, 88; and Kerry, Massachusetts, 04. All from the Southeast won on their first try -- Carter, Georgia, 76; Clinton, Arkansas, 92-96; and Gore, Tennessee, 2000. (OK, Carter lost to Bush the Elder in 80 because of stagflation and the Iranian hostage crisis. Gore in 2000 won if you count all the actual votes intended for him.)

So, candidates from the Upper Midwest lost. Candidates from the Northeast lost. Candidates from the Southeast won.

What can we learn from this? The losing candidates were liberal liberals associated with the most progressive elements of those states. The winning candidates were liberal moderates from the least progressive region of the country, but they were successful Democrats who represented the best the South has to offer politically, especially when compared to Southern Republicans –  among the worst of the worst.

What are the implications for 2008? At the moment, for me it suggests a ticket of John Edwards of North Carolina and Barack Obama. OK, Obama is from Illinois, so he has yet to prove himself a vote getter in all sections of the country. I believe he can.

For further analysis, see an earlier post in which I write a prescription for Democrats in 2008.

Friday, January 27, 2006
Proposal to Reform Lobbying
Lobbying is free speech guaranteed by the Constitution. However, the contemporary practice in Washington is corrupt. Here is my simple proposal for reform.

All gifts without exception are prohibited. The includes everything from free meals at Burger King to weekend trips to Scotland to play golf.

All lobbying will take place in designated places set aside for the purpose. Each room will be sparsely furnished, containing only a table and straight chairs and dimly lighted by a bulb hung down from the ceiling on a wire.

All conversations will be videotaped and available to anyone who wants to listen.

The express purpose will be for the lobbyist to convince Representatives, Senators, and the President by the power of reason that any proposal they want be in the public interest.

Written materials may be provided that shall be open to public inspection.

All campaigns for national office will be publicly financed by a surcharge on income tax payments based on a percentage of gross income or profit.

Members of the Supreme Court will be instructed on the difference between free speech and purchased speech employed for political purposes that unfairly gives an advantage to those with money.

Elected officials who violate these provisions will be immediately eliminated from office forever. Lobbyists and their employers in violation will be forced to watch for eights hours a day six days a week for ten years reruns of the Oprah Show on which she apologized for endorsing a non-fiction book that was full of fiction.

Saturday, November 11, 2006
Prescription for Democrats 2008
The presupposition of what follows is that politics is the art of the possible. Democrats have taken a beating in recent decades by being too far ahead of an electing majority on matters in the moral- social-cultural area. They have been too much in the control of a variety of interest groups that moved the Democrats into an agenda favored by the more progressive cultural elements in society who tended to be more educated, more prosperous, and to be in the professions -- the "knowledge industries" dealing more with ideas and with providing services that require education or special training than with actually producing goods or providing services as the basic level -- manufacturing, driving trucks, working in dry cleaning establishments, the food industries, and the like. Support for labor weakened; in fact, many saw working people as culturally backward racists. Maybe this is enough to suggest the idea, though much needs to be said.

As a result we lost the most conservative area –  the South –  and became alienated from working people and from far too many of the common folks – the average Joe and Joan across the country –  the plain, good folks many of whom populated the churches of the middle and lower classes.

As a result we got Nixon, Reagan, and Bush 1 and 2.

I am a democratic socialist and very liberal on the cultural issues. But there are not enough of my kind to elect a Congress and a President, except maybe in San Francisco. You cannot wield political power unless you get it. I am not much in favor these days of being a voice crying in the wilderness with my idealistic vision. There is work to be done in the culture winning more people to liberal ideals of peace and justice, but politics is the art of the possible. Therefore:

In preparation for 2008 Democrats should focus on the following:

1. Declare themselves to be against abortion. They should announce that abortion should be legal, safe, and as rare as possible. The only solution to this problem is to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Hence, Democrats should invite Republicans to joins them in a crusade to prevent unwanted pregnancies by every effective means including sex education that focuses on pregnancy prevention, abstinence, and safe sex.

2. They should forget gun control, oppose a federal constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage, and otherwise leave the matter up to the states. There is further work to be done in the culture before much progress can be made politically on the issue. Gradually, it will happen starting in the Northeast and the West Coast and slowly work its way through the country, as is happening. Democrats should say as little as possible about prayer in school and the like, and take moderate positions when subjects like this cannot be avoided. The cultural issues have been killing Democrats for decades. Democrats should go slow on them and fight in winnable battles on the liberal-moderate side in areas that offer that possibility.

3. On Iraq they should seek a bipartisan solution or let the Republicans settle it. There is no good policy at this point, and whatever course is taken will leave Iraq in chaos for years. Democrats do not want to get credit for a policy that will lead to further disaster and violence, and there is no policy that will not do exactly that. Both parties must bear the blame if necessary, and Republicans should be seen as having major responsibility for the outcome if a genuinely bipartisan solution is not possible.

4. Domestically, Democrats must return to their New Deal roots to the extent they can find issues on which they can be successful. The heart of the agenda should be on the welfare of families. Helping families is the central focus. Around that can be built the following: increasing the minimum wage, increasing support for child care to enable both parents to work if they want to, strengthening welfare policies to make them more humane, i. e., require work but provide the means to make it possible to get decent jobs at good pay with child care and whatever other support is required, improving the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), support labor in its attempt to organize and to remain strong as a counterpoint to big business, assist families and students in getting a college education, and the like. Finally, they should push environmental and energy initiatives to the limits of winnable possibility.

5. Crucial is a reform of health care. Incremental gains may be all that is politically possible at the moment, but movement should be in the direction of a one-payer system that does something like universalize Medicare. Appeal to business by proposing to take health off their agenda as a cost. We must educate the public on the facts and counteract the myths, dogmas, falsehoods, and scare tactic of free-market zealots and Republicans sponsored by the enormous power of the insurance and drug companies. A universal health care plan can provide better care at lower costs with greater efficiencies than the awful system we have now that leaves 45 million plus people without medical insurance.

This suggests a direction and a set of guidelines –  moderate on social-cultural issue, strong focus on helping middle class and lower income families and individuals.

This would help Democrats become the party of Roosevelt, Truman, and Johnson (the latter on the domestic, not the Vietnam side) again. They won.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Kerry's Dumb Remark and Republican Dirty Politics
OK, Senator Kerry said something dumb –  again. This time his statement about the failure of college students to study hard leading to their being stuck in Iraq conveyed something he did not intend, mean, or believe. It was an error, a mistake in statement. His explanation that his gaffe was a "botched joke" about President Bush is entirely credible. The Senator says dumb things sometimes, but he is not stupid. He is not an idiot. To have deliberately meant what his words said –  and what the Republicans sinfully pretend to take him to have meant –  would have been political suicide. Everybody knows that. The Republicans damn well know that, of course they do.

But Kerry gave them a beautiful opportunity to play dirty, and they are exploiting it, although they know quite well that Kerry made an error in speaking and did not intend an insult to people in the military. They know his explanation was credible; heck, they know it is true. But why should mere truth be a barrier to an opportunity to exploit Kerry's dumb statement to divert attention from their sorry record and the debacle of Iraq? The brazen dishonesty of it all is evident to all whose brains are functioning at 30% capacity or more.

The TV news channels hopped on it and will play it out repeatedly because it is the sort of thing they love –  dramatic, emotional, a fight. It is all a sad commentary on the state of politics and American culture.

Unfortunately, Kerry brings a lot of baggage from 2004, and his gaffe plays right into the perception that he is an aristocratic elitist who does not relate easily to the common folks –  skiing in Aspen, wind surfing off Cape Cod, and the like. The only good thing to come out of this is that it reduces his chances of getting the presidential nomination again to somewhere below zero.

I think everybody should take James Carville's advice for 2006: "If you don't like Senator Kerry, don't vote for him."

Just for the record, courtesy of George W. Bush:

"It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way." George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2005.

"But Iraq has –  have got people there that are willing to kill, and they're hard-nosed killers. And we will work with the Iraqis to secure their future." George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2005

"I was not pleased that Hamas has refused to announce its desire to destroy Israel." Washington, D.C., President Bush, May 4, 2006.

"Who could have possibly envisioned an erection –  an election in Iraq at this point in history?" George W. Bush, at the White House, Washington, D.C., Jan. 10, 2005.

"I stand by all the misstatements that I've made." Governor George W. Bush, Jr. to Sam Donaldson, 8/17/93

(Taken from The San Francisco Chronicle, May 10, 1988)
George Bush made one of the all-time misstatements Friday night at the College of Southern Idaho. Describing his close relationship with President Reagan, Bush said: "For 7 ½ years I've worked alongside him, and I'm proud to be his partner. We've had triumphs, we've made mistakes, we've had sex."

"Setbacks," he quickly corrected. "We've had setbacks."

Thursday, October 26, 2006
What's Wrong with Bush: An Expert Diagnosis
It is not well known, but I am a world renowned expert in the science of connecting behavior disorders with brain dysfunction. It is my duty as an American patriot to reveal my conclusions about President Bush. Fortunately, like Dr. Frist, who could diagnose Terri Schiavo from a thousand miles away, I have the ability to discern at a distance in a way that requires no brain scans but only a good newspaper.

Mr. Bush suffers from two related disorders, a major dysfunction along with an enabling malady that makes the first one possible. The major issue is that somewhere along the way he developed a severe form of infallibitism. This refers to the inability to recognize or admit to fundamental errors of judgment. So while a large majority of Americans recognize that Iraq is a mess so messy that there is no good way out, the President cannot acknowledge this because of an attachment to discredited dogmas, assumptions, and unrealistic goals. Because his infallibitism is so profound, he cannot admit to his fallibility. He can only confess that some errors were made but not sufficient to undermine the basic justification for our being there and staying there until victory is ours. The Iraq fiasco is so bad, however, that he needs some way to hide his disability.

The inability to use language that corresponds to reality leads him to disguise the deficiency. Here is where the second disorder comes to his rescue. He is also afflicted with semantitis, which stimulates the use of language designed to bridge the gap between his claims and the facts. This disorder made it possible to keep coming up with new justifications for our being there as facts came to light that undermined each new rationale.

When weapons of mass destruction were not found and then the connection of Iraq with Al-Qaeda in 9/11 was shown to be baloney, a succession of new reasons was generated by his semantitis until now it seems the fate of civilization depends on our victory

Semantitis enables him at the moment to avoid admitting to the morass of Iraq by saying "mistakes were made." When he is finally forced by public opinion, sensible advisors, and a night watching CNN to make significant changes, this will be announced and defended as flexibility in dealing with changing conditions but not a change of strategy.

Semantitis also enables him to change the meaning of the goal from achieving a fully-functioning, stable democracy to creating a sustainable government with tolerable internal conflict while still calling it victory.

Unfortunately after it reaches the advanced stage present in this instance, there is no cure for either infallibitism or semantitis. The best outcome would be to retire the President to Crawford where time in the sun clearing brush and riding around on a horse will make the world safe for sanity.

Sunday, September 17, 2006
The Trilemma of Democrats
If Democrats have no alternative to the disastrous Bush policies in Iraq, there is no reason to prefer them over Republicans. If they do offer a proposal, it can easily be shot full of holes.

Behind this dilemma lies the fact that the Bush Administration has created such a debacle in Iraq that there is no good way out. All plans are full of hazards. Americans are divided right down the middle on whether to stay or to go. This reflects the fact that neither way looks hopeful. Any course chosen now will have dangers of unknown character and proportions. We have to find the least bad way, and that most certainly does not include continuing the present course which has brought us to the present morass.

Here is where the third element enters to create not merely a dilemma but a trilemma: for Democrats to suggest that no good option is available to get us out of the mess opens them to the charge of practicing the politics of despair.

What, then, are they to do? There is no way to escape fully the trilemma, but it can be approached in the least damaging fashion. The main point is that the Democrats should offer as the first step not a plan but a procedure for finding the best way forward. It follows that Democrats need to concentrate at the moment on the morass into which the Bush policies have landed us. Objections should be met by pointing out forcefully and repeatedly how ridiculous it is to criticize Democrats for their inability to provide an unambiguous way out a mess Bush has created that it is so disastrous that only imperfect alternatives are possible.

It follows from this that the blunders of Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld, and company have totally disqualified them from being in charge of the future. In support are the following:

1. It was a mistake to go to war in Iraq. A majority of Americans have believed this for some time.

2. The war has been conducted badly with tragic results. Look at the evidence on the ground in Iraq. The situation is bad and getting worse.

3. The war in Iraq and the war on terror are not the same, as much as the Bush crowd would have us believe that it is.. The war in Iraq has made the terror problem worse not better. The intelligence community has confirmed what reporters on the ground have long known -- the Iraq war has produced more jihadists and created more hatred for America around the world.

4. The Bush Administration is so bound to its fallacious dogmas and to a defensive posture that cannot admit to anything but minor tactical errors that it is incapable of finding the new directions that are necessary.

Hence, the Bush agenda must be thoroughly discredited so new leaders can seek the best way out of a bad situation. That would take the form of seeking a bipartisan solution with input from citizens representing diverse opinions. Other vital parties in the area and in Europe must be invited to help find a productive way forward. No solution will be perfect, so it must have wide support moving toward a consensus to the extent that is possible. A bipartisan proposal would mean that both parties would have to accept the blame for any failures that occur.

Sunday, July 16, 2006
Arousing Hillary Rodham Clinton
"Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, returning to her red-state ties, chastised Democrats Saturday for taking on issues that arouse conservatives and turn out Republican voters rather than finding consensus on mainstream subjects." So begins an article in The New York Times.

That was a sensible statement that Democrats would be wise to heed.

But I wonder if the Senator would agree with me that among the things that "arouse conservatives and turn out Republican voters" would be Hillary Rodham Clinton running as the Democratic nominee for President in 08?

Monday, June 26, 2006
My New Hero –  Warren Buffett
I have never liked Microsoft. I never use any of their products I can avoid –  the near equivalent of escaping death and taxes. I think that, like Wal-Mart, they compete relentlessly and ruthlessly, never mind the dead carcasses left in the wake. I don't shop at Wal-Mart. But I have always liked Bill Gates. That he is giving away his immense fortune to fight disease on a global scale and to improve education adds another feather to his cap (star in the crown for religious types).

Now I learn that he and Melinda give Warren Buffett the credit for inspiring them to give back to society. So the hero of the day is the Oracle of Omaha –  the investor genius now worth about 44 billion. He now proposes to give about 37 billion of that away to charitable foundations with 5/6th of it going to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the rest to a number of family foundations.

Also, he supports the estate tax. He opposed the Bush tax cuts. He thinks a few hundred thousand is enough to leave to his children. He says that is sufficient to enable them to do anything they want but not enough so they can do nothing. He never gives his children more than the non-taxable limit of $10,000 a year, which he does every Christmas.

When asked what he would do if he could change the tax code, he said, "If I really could do it, it would shock you. I'd tax the hell out of personal consumption at progressively higher rates and impose an enormous inheritance tax."

Joining him in favoring the estate tax are William Gates, Sr. (father of Bill), George Soros, and Paul Newman. Paul Newman was once asked why he gave all the profits from his food-making industry to charity, he said, "Why not, I don't need it." Damn, it is hard to hate rich people like that.

Let us not forget the Mouth of the South –  Ted Turner. One day he realized he was a billion dollars richer than he had been the year before and decided to give that billion to the United Nations. It was, he said, his mission to convince other wealthy people to give similar sums to good causes.

Not all who are superrich are favorable to the estate tax. Oprah Winfrey does plan to give her fortune away, but she hates the estate tax, lamenting, "It's irritating that once I die, 55 percent of my money goes to the U.S. government. You know why that's irritating? Because you would have already paid nearly 50 percent (USA Today, June 9, 2000). Double taxation, they say. Never mind, as critics point out, that the bulk of large estates are in capital gains which have never been taxed. Moreover, those who want to abolish the estate tax conveniently forget that the creation of wealth is a social process not solely an individual achievement. Bill Gates is a genius and deserves a reward for his creative work, but does he deserve 50 or a 100 billion or whatever he finally ends up with? All of us who value the computer and buy Microsoft products, like the Windows XP on my machine making it go, have a part in making him rich. Microsoft would not have been possible without all the preceding science and technology which made it possible. Where would the Waltons be without all the customers who shop at Wal-Mart or without computers?

And what about the Waltons? Widow Helen and the four children of Sam, founder of Wal-Mart, have about 16-18 billion each, for a total of about 80-90 billion –  by far the largest family fortune around. They get richer all the time by sums now approaching a billion dollars a year. And where does their money go? They give to numerous charities like The Salvation Army and United Way. But their main activities are to oppose public education and to support charter schools and vouchers. Some observers say their ultimate aim is the privatization of all education, opening up money-making enterprises from which they could benefit. They also support right-wing foundations and causes. They spend enormous sums to elect conservative candidates to office. They have joined with the Gallos (wine) and the Mars (candy, I may have to give up Snickers) families and others in support of repeal of the estate tax, spending generously for the purpose.

So today let us cheer the Gateses, the Buffetts, the Turners, the Newmans, and the Soroses, and their tribe while we boo the Waltons.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Iraq Debate
What strikes me about the current debate on Iraq is that nearly everyone who states a position seems to assume that there is one and only one policy that is right and practical while all the others would be disastrous. If they have reservations about their own ideas, they remain unspoken. Should we stay indefinitely until political stability and relative peace are achieved? Leave now? Announce a phased withdrawal? Set a date now for a total withdrawal? The truth is that no one knows the best course to follow, for no one knows what the consequences of each would be.

As best as I can tell the arguments for one policy are about as convincing as for any other given what we know and our inability to know what the future will bring. So pundits assume their own insight is impeccable, and politicians try to win points with public opinion and with voters in the coming elections.

We have a tiger by the tail, and it is not clear what we should do to remedy the situation. It was a mistake to go there in the first place, but we did, and now we have to deal with the mess we created the best way we can, and nobody know what that best or least bad way is.

I will grant that qualifying one's position by saying, "On the whole, by and large, generally speaking, taking everything into consideration, in my opinion my proposal is probably best given the uncertainties in the situation" does not make one look like a decisive leader, but it might be closer to what the situation requires. At least one's opponents would not feel obligated perhaps to state an alternative with a confidence and certainty that is foolhardy under the circumstances. The likelihood that debaters will begin noting the probable weaknesses in their policies and the strength of the alternatives is about as likely as Dick Cheney admitting that he has been wrong from the start.

I suppose stating a position and trying to refute all others without acknowledging the complexity, difficulty, ambiguity, and uncertainty in the situation is the way we do things these days. It is not a compliment to our democracy that such is the case.

Thursday, November 17, 2005
Conspiracies in the Bush Administration
Allegations of conspiracy abound. A few of them are real. A major one that no one talks about is the conspiracy of politicians and the people against good policy and common sense.

People want greater benefits and lower taxes for themselves. Politicians want to get elected. How do you get elected? By telling people what they want to hear and giving them what they want. It is a marvelous arrangement.

So we get lower taxes, especially for the rich, who can unduly influence the Congress. They especially get what they want, often to the detriment of those who have only votes to pay for their goodies. The rich more than make up in dollars what they lack in ballot power.

What we don't get is good energy policy because the people want low gas prices, and the corporations want profits from making big cars, selling gas, and building highways. The politicians want votes from the people and dollars from the corporations.

What we don't get is a reasonable tax on gas, with credits for lower income folks, that would have multiple benefits –  better fuel efficiency, funds for seeking alternative energy sources, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and degradation of the environment, money for other good purposes like health care for all, and so on.

We get bridges to nowhere along with all the other pork our good legislatures arrange by playing "you vote for mine and I'll vote for yours."

We also have sub-conspiracies of the rich and the politicians against the rest of us. So we get bad, terribly confusing Medicare coverage for drugs with subsidies for drug companies.

What we get is 45 million people without health insurance because the insurance and drug companies have sufficient influence to prevent the enactment of universal health insurance that would be much more efficient and get good care for who can't afford to pay now.

What we get is a powerful effort to get rid of the estate tax that significantly affects only the very rich.

How can this sub-conspiracy flourish when it benefits the few and hurts the many? It works because while the rich and the politicians are screwing the rest of us, enough conservative values voters among us are willing to subordinate their economic interests to their reactionary moral and cultural attitudes that many of the rich are more or less indifferent to in order to get more rich. Religious and other conservative values voters are so fearful that the culture they cherished is passing away that they are willing for the rich to fleece the masses of us in return for votes supporting traditional (recent past) ways of life.

But since benefits without taxes to support them won't work in the long run, how do the politicians get by with it? They do it by reducing or withholding benefits to the poor and putting the rest on a charge card for later generations to pay.

But isn't this too simple a picture of the political situation? Of course it is, but is there not enough truth in this oversimplification of a complex situation worth taking notice of? You bet.

Thursday, November 10, 2005
Children of Divorce Wars: The Academic Debate
Recently a spate of book has engaged the question: Is divorce good for children? One side says, while some kids turn out badly, on the whole children of divorced parents do pretty well. Divorce is painful at the time for children, but in the long run does not harm most. There is such a thing as the "good divorce."

The other side says, while a few may remain unscathed, for the most part, children of parents who divorce do worse than kids from intact families in numerous ways. There is no such thing as the "good divorce."

It is more complicated than this for both positions, of course, but you get the picture. My thesis here is that you don't need to read these books to get their general drift –  if you have one piece of information about the authors. You need to know their general ideological orientation. I will call them for working purposes in this situation conservative and liberal.

Conservatives value tradition and the norms they represent. Things turn out better when people live in accordance with the institutional patterns given to us from the past, usually the more recent past, since all agree that some older traditions are bad, slavery, e. g. To put it differently, they give priority to structure and are skeptical of the capacity of freedom to create new patterns and practices that will work as well.

Conservatives and their sponsoring think tanks prefer studies that show children of divorce do badly. Moreover, the studies they do will pretty well confirm their preferences.

Liberals don't dismiss tradition outright but find enough wrong with it sometimes to justify a search for new patterns and practices that may be better. Traditional marriage, e. g., was male dominated, authoritarian, and put women in a subservient role. Put otherwise, they emphasize the capacity of human freedom and creativity to elaborate novel institutional arrangements that can be better for all.

Liberals therefore prefer studies that stress the possibility of the good divorce for the adults and the children. While a happy intact marriage is the best, divorce can be more or less harmless in the long run for children, their welfare, and life prospects. Studies done by them and their liberal sponsors will tend to support these preferences.

So don't bother to read all the books. Just try to find out whether the authors are conservatives or liberals in the sense defined, and you will know in advance in good measure where they will come out on the question of the long term effects of divorce on children.

Extremists and radicals at the far right and far left of the spectrum just take these contrasting tendencies much further.

No dishonesty is imputed to anyone. With full integrity and good intentions all around, it just works out that way. There is so much variation in individual cases, so many ways to create and use methodologies, so much complexity in the data, so many ways of interpreting the bare facts that competent, reasonable people can come out at different places, each with a claim to truth.

But if you want to undertake all the reading, here is an annotated bibliography representing all sides on the issue prepared by a conservative institution whose preferences are evident in the short descriptions of each book:

The most interesting question for me in all this is how people come to have a particular ideology in the first place and how continuing experience and confrontation with fresh facts modify their stance. How do interpretive patterns and empirical data interact over time? How does individual temperament enter in relation to tendencies to persist in present beliefs versus openness to change? How do deep-rooted bias and commitment truth even if it requires a change of mind interact? These are questions of deep importance and not often enough pursued in cases like this.

Somebody once said that theologians should be forced to publish an intellectual autobiography alongside their books and articles. The same holds for people who write books on marriage and divorce. How did their life history, especially in childhood, and adult personal experience shape their outlook? These may be crucial factors, and yet they are generally ignored. Pursuit of them might even lead to understanding and to reduction of differences in interpretation. But, heck, a fight is much more exciting.

Thursday, November 18, 2004
A Geographical Theory of Winning in 2008

Look at the electoral maps of 2000 and 2004. The geographical pattern is striking, allowing for minor exceptions. The blue Democratic states are the Northeast, the upper Midwest, and the states bordering the Pacific. The red Republican states are the Southeast, Southwest, lower Midwest, mountain and plains states. A pre-Civil War map showing free (blue) and slave (red) states and territories almost exactly matches the electoral map of 2004. While electoral maps of many other years would not be this striking, a geographical factor is present, except in blowout years like 1936, 1972, and 1984. Look at it another way. Democrats won the large cities, while Republicans won the small towns and rural areas, with the suburbs split. Divisions are also noticeable with regard to income, education,, religion, race and ethnicity, age, marital status, and gender, but geography is relevant to many of these as well. Zip code is an important clue all by itself. Since this is a blog and not a book, what can we learn from this? Geography is a useful clue to many other things –  history, economics, religion, and culture. The geography of the South, e. g., was conducive to cotton growing and therefore slavery, which has deeply affected its entire history.

Geographical factors account in part for immigration patterns and the Protestant domination of the South. Geography is a component of, if not clue to, how things worked out in other areas with regard to economics, culture, and religion. So what does this mean for 2008? Assuming that the situation will remain much like it is now in terms of red and blues states as is probable, ask how the blue states can be preserved for the Democrats while reaching out to enough other states that can be likely won to win the election. Some decisions are easy. Massachusetts is probably a safe bet if the Democrats don't do something crazy, but forget Utah for a while. Either Florida or Ohio is probably a must, remembering that a shift of only 70,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have given the victory to Kerry. Looking toward 2008, Democrats live in tension between holding true to their values and getting elected. How to win without losing your soul –  that is the question. With Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, we risk losing our soul. With Sen. Hillary Clinton, we risk losing the election. My sentimental favorites at the moment are John Edwards and Barack Obama, but time may question the wisdom of one or both. But to begin with candidates, issues, and values is to get the cart before the horse. We need to start with geographical, historical cultural factors and make a structural analysis of where enough more votes can come from next time to enlarge the number of blue states. Then we can match messenger and message to that purpose.

Friday, May 28, 2004
Kerry, the Albatross, and the Trumpet of Uncertain Sound
Added to the fact that John Kerry is an inept campaigner –  weak in substance, style, and personality –  is the fact that he is in a sea with "water, water all around and not a drop to drink." He inherited this albatross from the Democratic past and may not be able to get rid of it. The problem for Democrats began in the 1960's when they started to take liberal positions on the race issue, and the South began its shift to Republican majorities. To race was added in the next decades an ensemble of other cultural and social issues –  Vietnam, abortion, women's liberation, gun control, gay and lesbian demands for justice, prayer in school, pornography, and the like. The problem was that many of the constituencies that Democrats historically appealed to since FDR are cultural traditionalists and were offended by the shift of Democrats toward the progressive side. Southern whites and working class people everywhere, including many Catholics and union members, especially men –  formerly staunch members of the Democratic coalition –  faced a conflict between their economic interests and their traditional attitudes. This disaffection was skillfully promoted by Nixon, Reagan, and now Bush –  aided and abetted by the Christian right, conservative think tanks, radio, etc. –  with great success. Meanwhile the Democrats were becoming more upscale with pro-business attitudes and moderate to liberal cultural views while the unions grew weaker. Conservatives and reactionaries took over the Republican party and marginalized moderate Republicans. Contrary to standard economic theory, people frequently vote their moral values and not simply their economic class self-interests.

Democrats have won the presidency only with moderate Southerners who managed to finesse the problem by skillful combination of some progressive economic policies and pragmatically bobbing and weaving on the cultural issues of interest to women, blacks, gays, lesbians, and many upscale voters (especially those in the knowledge industries). Increasingly bound to business and wealthy donors, the populist message is hard to sell among Democrats and is discouraged by the Democratic Leadership Council, who were fond of Clinton and later Gore, except when he attacked big business.

So now the Democrats confront a baffling question: Why do the masses of ordinary people of modest and low income not get outraged by huge tax cuts for the wealthy, including the estate tax which only rich people pay? One clue is that people vote on taxes depending on whether they think they are being taxed unfairly, not realizing that the Bush tax policies benefit the very rich and deny ordinary folks needed social services. Why don't the poor vote, since that is the only way they can get their interests met? Many lower middle and middle class people vote Republican because of their military militancy, patriotism, and cultural conservatism, but why don't they pressure Republicans to be more attentive to their economic interests instead of passively going along?

Meanwhile, the established parties, especially Republicans, have managed to create a set of political arrangements driven by the power of wealth and incumbency, along with the rigging of congressional districts, that make it difficult for insurgents to win office. Consequently, incumbents can vote for regressive policies without much fear of defeat, except when massive citizen outrage develops, which is all too rare. So the rich enjoy low taxes and disproportionate political power. The result is a society in which both economic and political inequality dominate.

If they could get outraged and moderate their cultural conservatism for a moment, the masses of ordinary working people with modest and low incomes could elect reformers even with all the power of wealth and incumbency against them. They could appropriately tax the rich, provide better health care, guarantee Medicare and Social Security, and in general improve their lot. But it is not likely to happen.

So Kerry has the albatross created by recent history around his neck with a nearly impossible task. Given his uninspiring, inept campaign, and his entrapment by his own past voting record and wobbly views, it looks grim for progressives. St. Paul asks "if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who will get ready for battle?" (I Cor. 14:8). With the albatross around his neck and his trumpet giving a muffled sound, we can only hope that Bush will look so bad that the ABB phenomenon will occur, i. e., anybody but Bush. But given Kerry's own membership in the aristocracy, only modest results will follow even then, especially if the Republicans continue to control Congress. The best progressives can hope for in the near future is a Clinton-type president (preferably with his zipper up). This prospect will not change much apart from major demographic shifts or events that shake things up.

See: Thomas Frank, "Lie Down for America: How the Republican Party Sows Ruin on the Great Plains," Harper's Magazine (April 2004), and Christopher Jencks, "Our Unequal Democracy," The American Prospect (June 2004).

Tuesday, 20 April 2004
Woodward and the War, Bush and Bandar
A lot of double-talk and clever seizing of ambiguities of language has taken place since the Bob Woodward (State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III)  book came out.

1. Woodward says Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia was told of the decision to go to war before Colin Powell was. Powell says he was in on the war planning. So both can claim to be right.

2. Prince Bandar is a clever soul and can wiggle himself out of most anything. He is as slippery as a cat fish fresh out of water. He acknowledged that Woodward was right about the hope to lower oil prices before the election but not, mind you, to influence the election but for the good of the world economy. Never mind that he also said the Saudis hoped that every incumbent would win, not that they ever wanted to influence an election, indicating that similar statements had been made to Carter and the first White House Bush.

These details aside, Woodward confirms what Richard Clark and Paul O'Neill have said: the Bush Administration early on was eager to find a reason to topple Saddam Hussein. They seized on every bit of evidence and interpreted (manipulated?) it to serve their cause from the beginning. Cheney was especially obsessed, having been the Secretary of Defense during the first war against Iraq and had unfinished business with that regime. And are we to believe that the younger Bush had no feelings about the guy who tried to kill his Dad, namely, Saddam himself, and that only thoroughly rational strategic considerations entered into his thinking?

Many of us think that decision was tragically wrong. The Bush Administration changed its rationale every time the prevailing one was demolished by the facts. No evidence showed that, even if Saddam had WMD, that he was on the verge of using them, which would have been the only justification for a preemptive strike.

Saturday, 17 April 2004
Ralph Nader: Naked Messiah
Ralph Nader:
1. has a Messiah complex. He believes himself to be the chosen one to restore justice and goodness to the nation.

2. has a fundamentalist mentality. Only he has the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. No deviations from his inspired word are permitted, since those outside his world-view have only distortions of the truth.

3. is a fanatic. He is willing to do untold damage to institutions and people for the sake of pursuing his shining goal. No appeals that he may help elect Bush. who will continue the assault on his dream sway him in the least.

4. is a prophet. He deserves much credit for speaking truth to power for decades. He exposes the painful, disgusting fact that both parties are close to being to bought off by corporate power. He sees clearly what most politicians deny and what most people are not angry enough about. He has been a voice in the wilderness proclaiming the truth that most others miss or try to avoid and has been able to do so because he is not dependent on the predators for his support.

5. is a failure as a politician. Politics is the art of the possible involving compromise and trade-offs and is beset with baffling ambiguities. Politics is the pursuit of the better when the best is impossible to attain, at least right now. It will sometimes settle for the least of two evils when necessary in order to avoid the worst. Nader will have none of this. He has a moral clarity that is illusory in the messy world of government where competing interests struggle with adversaries for a margin of power. He does not know how to combine his idealism with a realism that can actually get something done. He has not learned the lesson taught by Reinhold Niebuhr that sometimes a slightly more just policy than available alternatives may make a great deal of difference for good in the lives of many people. Nader is willing to forgo small gains and to risk even greater injustice in the fanatical pursuit of his fundamentalist vision as the chosen one for this age.

Nader as a prophet is a national treasure. As a messianic politician, he is a disaster. There is a time and place for an ideal moral vision beyond imminent achievement. There is a time to be morally uncompromising, for independent candidates, for idealists in pursuit of a vision not power, BUT NOT IN 2004, when the compelling moral task is to get rid of George W. Bush and to replace him with a better if not perfect alternative.

I welcome comments, questions, refutations, etc. Please remove the * in the address before sending. The * was put there to thwart spammers.
My e-mail address

I am also into blogging, You will find periodic essays on current events at   or at

This is one of a web site that contains number essays on theology and ethics. The best place to begin is:
Essays on Theology and Ethics

Presently, the following essays on theological and ethical topics are available:
About the Author
A List of my Books
Blogs of Mine 2005, Part  I
Blogs of Mine, Part II
Blogs of Mine, Part III
Pope John Paul II: Blessing and Curse to the World
 Outrages of the Schiavo Case
Final Reflections on the Terri Schiavo Case
Liberal Church as Impotent Political Force
 Interpreting the Bible Today
 The Authority of the Bible
 Using the Bible with Integrity
 Theology as Religious Belief
 What I Believe
 Natural Law and Moral Relativism
 What is Truth -- and Does it Matter?
 A Doctrine of God (Short Version)
 A Doctrine of God (Long Version)
Trinity: God, Christ, Spirit
 God as Masculine and Feminine
 Theodicy: the Problem of Evil
 Theodicy: A Heterodox Alternative
 The Many Faces of Evil
 A Contemporary Christology
 Christ and Christians:
A Critique of Nieburhr's Christ and Culture
 The Incompatibility of Christianity and Civilization.
Christian Ethics

Process Christian Ethics

The Ethics of Belief

Relativism, Morality, Belief
Relating Jesus to Jefferson
 Liberation Themes in Country Music
Liberation Themes in White Southerners
Southern Tragedy
Capital Punishment
Physician Assisted Suicide
Prescription Drugs and the Little Red Hen
  Bio-Ethical Decision Making
Drug Policy
Homosexuality: Same Sex Love is OK
Theology and Ecology
Religion and Politics
Science and Theology
Church and State
A Short Biographical Sketch

For an updated version of Mother Goose for the modern age, visit
Mother Goose Goes Electronic

Having a Web site is becoming a family enterprise. First to have a Page
was my son.
The latest entry is that of my son-in-law and daughter.
Ric Brown
Nancy Cauthen

These sites are very different, but both are creative,imaginative
productions. They would welcome a visit.

Please remove * in my e-mail address before sending. The * was added to thwart spammers.
Thank you.

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Created:  Monday, September 5, 2005, 11:00 AM