We love Francis because he upholds the Utopian tenets of Catholic social teaching without damning those who do not.
By Alan Bean
Why were Democrats so thoroughly humiliated in the 2014 election? Analysts have been warning for months that this would be a tough year for the Blue team, but few expected the carnage to be this bad (or good, depending on your perspective).
The question is particularly pressing in Texas where Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor, lost by twenty points despite prodigious fund-raising success and massive GOTV support from groups like Battleground Texas.
Few expected Davis to win; but twenty points?
By the numbers, Davis lost because more 80% of key demographic groups voted for Republican Greg Abbott: white males, white evangelical Christians, voters who believe government is too big and that abortion should be illegal.
But Davis also lost because voters who normally help Democrats stayed home.
Davis didn’t do well with younger voters and did really badly with older voters. Only 6% of the electorate was between 18 and 24 and Greg Abbott received 59% of the votes of Texans between 25-29, 45% in the 30-39 category, 57% in the 40-49 group, and close to 70% support from voters 50 and older.
Only 61% of Latino woman supported Davis while Latino men actually favored Abbot, albeit by a single percentage point. Over all, Davis got only 25% of the white vote, 92% of the black vote and 55% of the Latino vote.
Latino support for Leticia Van de Putte, candidate for Lieutenant Governor, was also embarrassingly weak. While Latino women favored Leticia 58%-40%, Latino men backed Dan Patrick, an outspoken opponent of immigration reform, 53% to 46%. These results are particularly mystifying when you realize that Van de Putte is a Latina who switches effortlessly between English and Spanish.
If Democrats were shredded from sea to shining sea, the results in Texas were particularly depressing for a party boasting its intention to “turn Texas blue.”
So, why did it happen.
The big story is that only 28.5% of eligible Texas voters showed up at the polls. Texas has always been a low-voting state, but 28.5% suggests an alarming level of disengagement. White evangelicals showed up in droves, comprising 30% of the Texas electorate (according to exit polls), and 84% of them voted for the Republican.
Even if every single evangelical voter had stayed home, Davis would have eked out a narrow victory.
When you can’t win 30% of the white vote, it doesn’t matter how well you do with young people and Latinos.
Election results make it clear that Latinos who care about immigration and young people generally stayed home.
It is tempting for Democrats to castigate their supporters for sitting this one out, but that’s precisely the wrong approach. What did Democrats do, in Texas or nationwide, to give young people and non-white voters a reason to vote?
As things presently stand, the Democrats are a party without a message, And no, “the Tea Party is crazy and we’re not” doesn’t count.
When Obamacare survived a horrendous roll-out and registered a series of smashing successes, Republicans doubled down on their criticism. When Democrats failed to defend their leader’s signature policy success, the only story in town came from Republican politicians and pundits: “Obamacare is horribly, shockingly, disgustingly awful!!!!”
Democrats begged Obama to avoid action on immigration until after the election. The result: low turnout from frustrated Latino electorate and the loss of a hot campaign issue. Sure, immigration is controversial, but the majority of American support both the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform.
A party without a message can’t compete with a party sporting simple talking points and a high degree of message discipline. It doesn’t matter if most Republican positions are demonstrably wrong–if no one beats the drum for the alternative, Democrats will stay home and Republicans will score lopsided wins.
Texas Democrats won’t win 40% of the white evangelical vote in the foreseeable future, but if they can’t do better than 16%, the Republican hegemony could extend into the second half of the twentieth century.
White evangelicals see Democrats as the party of secularism, and if we restrict our attention to white Democrats a case can be made for this proposition. But the anti-God label is hilariously off-target if Latino and African American voters are taken into account.
Show up at a Black or Latino church and you will realize that Republicans have no corner on spirituality; but too many white Democrats, in my experience, have come to see religion as the enemy. That needs to change.
Wendy Davis was doomed form the outset because abortion rights, in Texas, is a political loser. Greg Abbott’s position on abortion is surprisingly moderate, but the “abortion Barbie” label killed Davis in the heartland.
Unfortunately, much of the political money that flooded Texas came from people determined to make the abortion issue front and center. The only way to protect women’s access to health care, long term, is to vote moderate candidates into positions of power. In the end, Davis was forced to run away from abortion rights, gun control, immigration reform and virtually every other progressive issue. She was a candidate without a message and her plight presented an egregious example of what ails Democrats across the nation.
Here’s the bottom line: democrats will become competitive in Texas the minute they give young people and Latinos a reason to vote. That didn’t happen in 2014 and it won’t happen in 2016 unless we see dramatic change.
By Alan Bean
Fred Clark is the best Christian blogger in the world. Well, at least he’s my favorite Christian blogger. He may be American evangelicalism’s harshest critic, largely because he grew up in the belly of the beast and knows how these people think and feel. He’s not some out of touch liberal bashing a culture he doesn’t understand; he grew up in this world and, to a large extent, never left. Fred doesn’t enjoy bashing evangelicals . . . well, maybe he does, but for the very best reasons.
In this piece, Clark explains why pro-life politics has become such a big deal for a group that, prior to 1980, believed abortion was a regrettable fact of life that should be legally protected.
The greatest danger of someone like Fred Phelps, Amethyst Marie writes, is that ”Phelps and others like him let us believe that being better than them is good enough.”
That’s what I’ve sometimes called “Melon morality” — from Rodney Dangerfield’s character in Back to School, who said, “If you want to look thin, you hang out with fat people.”
And if you want to look righteous, you compare yourself to the most evilest evildoers you can imagine: Satanic baby-killers.
Compare yourself to Satanic baby-killers and you can think of yourself as being righteous without having to do anything at all. No need to do anything difficult. No need to love anyone. No need to seek justice or to risk anything in speaking out against injustice. You can just sit there, content, complacent,superior. You know you’re good because, after all, you’re so much better than the Satanic baby-killers.
Alas, the initial self-righteous buzz of smug satisfaction from this comparison quickly begins to fade. To maintain that intoxicating reassurance of your own goodness you will need to make this Melon morality structural. You will need to reshape your politics, your religion and your culture to fortify and perpetually reinforce this constant comparison. You will need to rebuild and reconstitute all of these things around this one central fact: Your moral superiority to the Satanic baby-killers.
But wait — do such Satanic baby-killers really exist? Doubts may creep in. Shout them down. Silence any voices and any thoughts that might cause you to question the Satanic monstrosity of the evil other. Never allow any questions that could cause you to waver from the certainty and the conviction that the baby-killers are killing babies because killing babies is what baby-killers do.
This man will show you how it’s done.
This woman right here? Believes in killing babies. That man believes in killing babies. That woman over there, that woman over there, that woman right there, that woman right there, believes in killing babies. That is against the law of God.
It is against the law of man, of “Thou shalt not kill.” When a man — when a husband and wife come together — life begins at conception. You ask me why these people are holding signs? I’m gonna teach you. They want to kill babies.
He knows he’s better than those evil Satanic baby-killers. “They want to kill babies.” He does not want to “kill babies.” Therefore, he is better than them. Therefore, he is good. Therefore, his life must mean … something, something more than the torture of restlessness and vague desire, the quiet desperation, the receding echo of distant voices singing of a better self and a better world. He knows he doesn’t need a better self because he is already better — better than the Satanic baby-killers.
He is not alone.
That same idea has become the central organizing principle of evangelical Christianity in America. Forget the etymology of those terms. Evangelical Christianity is no longer about the message of good news or about Christ. It is about being better than the Satanic baby-killers. That is the core of evangelical identity. That is the one essential tenet of white evangelicalism that cannot and must not ever be questioned. See those people over there? They want to kill babies. We do not want to kill babies. We are better than them.
And yet it doesn’t work. Not even after demolishing and rebuilding our entire religion, church and faith around this central principle of our moral superiority to these supposed Satanic baby-killers.
It can never work, because no matter how hard we try, we can never wholly forget that being “better than” someone else is never good enough. Our desperate quest to find some extravagant evil other with whom we can compare ourselves favorably will always end with the hollow recognition that such comparisons cannot satisfy. Reassuring ourselves that we are “not as bad as” someone else will always seem empty because it doesn’t address the ever-present sense that we are not as good as we ought to be or as we are capable of becoming.
Becoming better, though, is hard. So instead of working at that, we set out to imagine others as ever worse — as not just worse than us, but as superlatively evil. Thus the central focus on Satanic baby-killers, and the steady stream of accompanying Hitler analogies.
C.S. Lewis warned us that this could only end badly:
The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
That’s from Mere Christianity — perhaps the most popular book by the most popular author among American evangelicals. But as much as they cherish and revere Lewis and his book, American evangelicals have emphatically rejected that advice. And they have failed that test.
American evangelicalism has been reshaped and redefined as precisely the thing that Lewis warned against — a never-ending quest for “the sheer pleasure of thinking [our] enemies are as bad as possible.”
“They want to kill babies.” It doesn’t matter that this is not true — that this is false witness borne against our neighbors. The only thing that matters is how it feels to imagine what it would mean if it were true — the “sheer pleasure” of being able to tell ourselves that others’ supposed wickedness somehow constitutes righteousness on our part.
That is the process that has made us into devils.
By Charles Kiker
Before the 2012 presidential election I was asked by a fellow minister, “How can a Christian vote for someone who is pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage?” I sought to answer his question, which was asked on Facebook, in private correspondence. With the current ado over the abortion issue in Texas and other red states, I think it is time to make my private answer public. I have edited my previous answer, but here is the gist of it.
An easy answer would have been to to say that some Christians take into consideration more than one or two issues in making their political choice(s). That would be true, but it would be too easy and it would be sidestepping the specificity of the question.
So I’m going to tackle it head on, from my own perspective. I will not claim it is the Christian perspective, but the perspective of one who who seeks to follow in the Way of Jesus. (more…)
By Alan Bean
When debates devolve into entrenched camps lobbing insults and talking points we need independent insight. Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, thinks for himself and is transparent about his presuppositions. He writes as a feminist, but disagrees with many feminists. He is a harsh critic of the liberal mainstream. He wants to bring radical ideas to the moderate middle when he thinks they are the best ideas.
The abortion debate is stalled, largely because fundraisers on both sides of the culture war divide make a great deal of money banging the drum for pro-life or pro-choice dogma. Abortion has become a tool for rallying the troops, and that makes clear-headed thinking on the subject almost impossible.
Jensen strikes a delicate-but-necessary balance between sexual freedom and sexual sanity. He is concerned about the unborn and women who become pregnant in the midst of painful circumstances. His essential argument is that adherents of both positions on the abortion issue need to listen to the valid concerns of the other side. I agree.
By Robert Jensen
The abortion debate in Texas—and throughout the country—has dead-ended: pro-life v. pro-choice, saving the unborn child v. protecting the rights of the mother, responsibility v. freedom. Every encounter leaves each side more dug in. (more…)
By Alan Bean
Regardless of your political persuasion, these are the best of times and the worst of times. The Supreme Court cuts the heart out of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and then nixes the oddly-styled Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Meanwhile, in Texas, Senator Wendy Davis and a gallery crammed with abortion-rights activists kept the Republican majority from passing a law that would have shut down the majority of abortion clinics in the Lone Star State.
Liberals are celebrating in Texas, but Rick Perry has already announced that he call another special legislative session with the specific purpose of undoing what was done last night.
Although the majority decision in the DOMA case turned on arcane legal arguments, the Supreme Court is yielding to a massive shift in public opinion on the gay marriage issue. Upholding DOMA is a nonstarter in today’s America, so the justices were forced to cobble together a legal justification for a pragmatic decision.
The same cannot be said for the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Gay rights has recently gained in popularity in virtually every demographic group–including white evangelicals. Opposition to the Voting Rights Act is limited to the conservative white voters who control political reality in much of the American South and a fairly large slice of the Midwest. Support for the Voting Rights Act is rock solid among African American and Latino voters.
Southern states may be insulted by the suggestion that their legislatures continue to discriminate against minority voters, but there can be little doubt that they do. It is ironic, for instance, that Wendy Davis would have been unable to filibuster the Republicans’ abortion bill in the Texas Senate if proposed electoral maps that deleted thousands of minority voters from her district had not been declared unconstitutional. Moments after the Supreme Court demolished the significant parts of the Voting Rights Act, Texas Republicans moved to revive a voter ID bill that was patently intended to eliminate as many minority voters as possible. Election laws that create long lines in minority precincts but not in conservative white precincts can now move forward without opposition.
If reaction to the Voting Rights Act decision split along largely racial lines; the abortion debate breaks across the no-mans-land created by the culture war. Personally, I am too conflicted on the abortion issue to support Texas Republicans or to hoot and holler for choice in the Senate gallery. I am reluctantly pro-choice. There are profound moral issues involved in the abortion debate. When a woman decides to terminate a pregnancy it is almost always with a heavy heart. This is appropriate. Pro-life politics work really well precisely because many progressive people of faith are morally conflicted on the issue. We understand and feel the arguments on both sides of the debate.
But conservatives cannot protect the unborn without creating major health problems for poor women who, denied access to safe abortions will turn to back alley butchers. It should also be noted that conservative states like Texas refuse to adequately fund public education and have far more uninsured poor families than the balance of the country. If Texas Republicans were genuinely concerned about the unborn they would give more thought to the post-birth plight of poor children.
Abortion has become a prized political issue because it allows politicians who oppose gay rights and voting rights to regain the high moral ground. “We may be doing everything in our power to neutralize minority voters and discriminate against gay Americans,” the logic goes, “but at least we’re fighting to save the unborn.”
But it’s a lie. They aren’t trying to save the unborn; they’re trying to win elections. Banging the pro-life drum and minimizing the impact of minority voters are two equally effective strategies for maintaining political control. If the abortion issue became a political detriment, most conservative politicians would abandon it in a heart beat. I’m not saying the stalwarts on the front lines of the prolife fight aren’t sincere (they are) but the same cannot be said for their political supporters.
By Alan Bean
The abortion debate has polarized America. We are in the midst of a seismic shift on the gay rights front, but the battle lines on Roe v. Wade have hardly shifted. Most Americans are uncomfortable with the moral implications of abortion; most Americans feel that abortion should remain legal, and politicians on both sides of the ideological chasm have learned to exploit the issue for political gain. On the Red Letter Christians website, Kristin Day paints this unhappy picture: (more…)