Category Archives: Religion

Apparently, Franklin Graham thinks God hates America

As if this were not a bad enough time for America, the son of an evangelist I’ve always respected seems to believe the Almighty is out to get us:

Franklin Graham: It wasn’t Russians who intervened in election, ‘it was God’

Evangelist Franklin Graham doesn’t believe it was the Russians who intervened in this year’s controversial presidential election.

It was God, he declared Saturday in Mobile, Ala., during President-elect Donald Trump’s final public rally before the Electoral College vote Monday.

“Since the election there’s been a lot of discussion as to how Donald Trump won the election,” AL.com reported Graham as saying. “I believe it was God. God showed up. He answered the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people across this land that have been praying for this country.”…

Really? REALLY?

I don’t care what your politics might be: What sort of prayer could Donald Trump be the answer to? He wasn’t even what most Republicans wanted (he received about 13.3 million votes in the primaries, while more than 16 million cast votes for someone else), much less an answer to their prayers. Settling for a deeply flawed candidate isn’t exactly an occasion for hallelujahs.

Let’s unpack this a bit. A large number of evangelicals were prepared to vote for whoever opposed Hillary Clinton because like me, they oppose abortion. And I can almost, but not quite, understand their holding their noses and choosing Trump as the one person in position to stop a woman they regarded for whatever reasons as the Devil herself. (Just as I was willing to vote for her as the only person in position to stop Trump.)

But note that I said “almost, but not quite.” That’s because the only possible justification would be that they were single-issue voters, which I find it hard to imagine being. And even if I were, on the life-and-death issue of abortion, I would find it very difficult to see Donald Trump as an ally, since his commitment to the pro-life position is so transparently a stance of convenience. He obviously has practically no understanding of the issue, and could drop the position as conveniently as he dropped his previous one — something we’ve seen him do time and time again. If you don’t like a position taken by this guy, wait a few minutes.

So what is there that a man of God, or one who sees himself as a man of God, would see as worth celebrating here?

It just floors me.

But let’s look at what unites us. I can join him in this prayer at least:

A few thoughts on ‘Spotlight’

One thing they definitely got right: The disaster area that is the typical reporter's workspace...

One thing they definitely got right: The grubby disaster area that is the typical reporter’s workspace…

I’ve had an extremely busy day and haven’t been able to keep up with the news. In any case, I was tired because I didn’t get home from the theater until about 10:30 last night, and then couldn’t resist popping my DVD of “All the President’s Men” into the player. I didn’t watch all of it, mind you, but… I was tired this morning.

I doubt that many of you have seen “Spotlight” yet, but you should. And against the day when you do see it, I thought I’d go ahead and share some of the things that struck me about it, most of which I shared with the audience last night during our panel discussion after the show.

First, a plug: That was my first time attending a show in the new Nickelodeon, and it was great. You should give it your custom if you don’t already. Andy Smith and the gang are doing a good job.

Now, my impressions…

I had said I was eager to see whether it really was the best newspaper film since the aforementioned Redford-Hoffman vehicle, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, given that the cinematic art has improved over the last four decades (or is it me?), it was better in a number of ways, although there were one or two things ATPM did that this did not (I loved the awkward, naturalistic, disconnected conversations Woodstein had with their sources — very much like real interviews). I was particularly impressed by how thoughtful and nuanced “Spotlight” was. If you watched the trailer, you could be forgiven for thinking it would be a cartoonish, black-and-white depiction of courageous, hard-driving journos relentlessly bringing down wicked Cardinal Law and his army of perverts. It was way more intelligent than that.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

For instance, while the film did show how a newspaper with the right resources and good leadership can peel away the layers hiding a dark secret eating away at its community, it did the opposite very well. By that I mean, it showed how a newspaper can fail to get that story, year after year. In a different context during our panel discussion, Charles Bierbauer mentioned the old saw that journalists live by, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” That very skepticism caused this team and the newsroom in general to fail to grasp the enormity of what they were facing. Yeah, they had a story about a pedophile priest on their hands, similar to a case they’d thoroughly covered years ago. But as indications emerged that maybe there were as many as 12 or 13 such priests in the archdiocese, then maybe as many as 90 (which would represent 6 percent, which a researcher told them they should expect — after all, that’s roughly the proportion of pedophiles in the adult male population), they just could not believe it. It was too outlandish; it didn’t fit their expectations in any way. John Slattery (of “Mad Men” fame) as Ben Bradlee Jr. spoke for all when he cried “b___s___!” to what the team had found at one point.

The members of the Spotlight team — three reporters and “player coach” Walter Robinson, played by Michael Keaton — were time and again dismayed to learn how they had missed the story over the years. After Robinson and a reporter ambush and harass a lawyer who has been dodging them, demanding that he provide the names of priests his clients had made claims against (leading to settlements that were sealed by the court), the lawyer finally explodes at them and says he had given the paper the names of 20 such priests several years ago, and the paper had essentially done nothing with it. Look at your own damn’ clips, he told them as he walked away. They look, and find a story buried inside. (This isn’t made clear, but I’m assuming they didn’t actually publish the names of the priests in that story — it would have been amazing if they had, without the kind of exhaustive investigation they were finally conducting at the time when the film is set, 2001-2002. You don’t run something like that on one lawyer’s say-so.)

The paper had also in the past brushed off a victim turned victims’ advocate, Phil Saviano, and an experienced editor can easily see why. When Saviano meets with the team and presents them with what he has, he starts out patient and then keeps slipping back into deep resentment that he had been ignored by others at the paper in the past, which causes him to lash out angrily. As he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, the reporters exchange a look behind his back. Yeahhh… one of those. We all have experience with sources like that. Full of passion, and full of stuff you can’t prove, and they come across as a bit unbalanced. Maybe he was abused, and it sent him over the edge. Or maybe the thing that sends him there is his frustration that no one believes the truth. At this point, the team is determined to find out if he’s right.

That the paper had missed opportunities in the past doesn’t mean the Globe is a bad paper; it’s far from that. This was just a particularly difficult story to a) believe, and b) nail down. Why, you wonder? Couldn’t they just go look at the court cases? No, they couldn’t. Lawyers for the victims who made claims — a small minority of the number of actual victims — generally didn’t file lawsuits in court. They went straight to the archdiocese, settlements were mediated, and the records were sealed. There would be a case over here that came to light, then one over there — and the paper covered those extensively, and everyone felt like they were on top of it. That there were so many priests, so many victims, that Cardinal Law was aware of the scope of it, that guilty priests would be shunted from one parish to another after useless “treatment,” all came as a shock as the resources of the Spotlight investigative team were devoted to the case.

And how did that happen? How was the decision made to have Spotlight drop what it was working on and bring to bear the kind of resources necessary to get the story at long last? That was interesting. It was the arrival of a new editor, Marty Baron, from The Miami Herald. He was an outsider in a newsroom full of people with deep Boston roots. He was Jewish in a Catholic town (all the members of the Spotlight team were raised Catholic, although apparently none were attending Mass any more). He wasn’t even interested in the Red Sox. He comes in feeling pressure to cut expenses, and focuses on Robinson’s team — four extremely talented, experienced reporters who only turn out a story about once a year (not because they were lazy, but because they put that much into their stories — making the team a very expensive luxury). And then he raises the question, if we’re going to have this team, why not have it look further into these sex abuse cases? He suggests they drop what they’re working on (some sort of police story) and turn to this. They do.

But it’s easy, if you’re not a journalist, to focus on the superficialities in the situation. A member of the audience asked me about that aspect of the story — the Jewish outsider being the only one who could make this bunch of hometown mackerel snappers take on the church in the most Catholic city in the country. I pointed out that he was missing the most salient aspect of Baron’s outsider perspective. It wasn’t that he was Jewish, or that he didn’t care about baseball. It was that he was from Florida — born in Tampa, coming up through the Herald‘s newsroom.

I could identify with his perspective. When I arrived at The State after having spent most of my career to that point in Tennessee, I was shocked to find out how much of public life in South Carolina could remain hidden — closed records, closed meetings. In Tennessee, we had had a Sunshine Law based on Florida’s groundbreaking open-government law. We’d had it when my career started. It spoiled me. I would hear stories of the bad old days before the law, when government bodies could go into something called “executive session” and shut out the press and the public, and I would shudder at the idea of such a thing. Then I came to South Carolina, where government bodies regularly go into executive session. It was like I’d been transported to the Dark Ages. Shortly after I arrived here, Jay Bender came to brief editors on improvements to FOI law that he and the Press Association had managed to push through the recent legislative session. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I kept saying things like, “That’s an improvement? You’re kidding me! You couldn’t do better than that?” I don’t think I made a good first impression on Jay.

(As governmental affairs editor, I was determined to break through the culture of closed doors. This led to an embarrassing situation one day. I left the newsroom to go check on my reporters and see what was happening at the State House. There was an important meeting going on somewhere that I was concerned we were missing. I spied a closed door, to one of the rooms off of the lobby near the exterior doors that open to the sweeping outdoor steps, and I strode over and put my hand on it. One of the loungers in the lobby called out that I shouldn’t barge in; there was a meeting going on. Aha! I thought. I self-righteously (I mean, I really made an ass of myself) replied, in a dramatic tone, “I know. That’s why I’m going in!” and pushed the door open with a flourish. It wasn’t my meeting. It was a couple of guys having a private chat, and they looked at me like I was crazy. I muttered something, backed out sheepishly, closed the door and endured the laughter of the lobby as I resumed my search.)

So, when Baron expressed surprise that it was so hard to get access to records in the sex-abuse cases, I felt his pain. And it made all the sense in the world that he would decide to overcome the barriers whatever it took, and suggested Spotlight drop what it was doing and get all over it. Which, as I said, they did. And they got the job done, against the odds.

I spoke of nuances. I loved a couple of the touches that undermined popular prejudices about the church, even as the film told in detail of the exposure of the church’s darkest secret. Sure, Law was the villain of the piece, but he was no Snidely Whiplash curling the ends of his mustache. Early on, when he meets Baron — one of those meetings that a new editor routinely has with key people in a community — he speaks of when he, too, had been an outsider, standing up for civil rights in Mississippi.

As for the old saw about a celibate priesthood being the culprit — hey, you don’t let ’em get married, so they take it out on the kids — there was a very interesting touch in the film. Stanley Tucci, wearing an impressive hairpiece, appears as attorney Mitchell Garabedian — as an Armenian, another outsider — who has decided he will try to make the abuse problem more public by actually suing on behalf of his victim clients in open court. He’s an irascible guy, and it takes some time for reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) to build a relationship of trust with him. At one point as they’re getting to know each other, Garabedian asks Rezendes whether he’s married. Rezendes says he is (although apparently, it’s complicated). Garabedian asks whether his demanding job causes problems in the marriage. Rezendes admits it does. Garebedian says yeah, that’s why he never married: His work is too important, and he just doesn’t have the time. Which, you know, is the rationale behind priests being celibate — that they’re supposed to devote themselves entirely to being shepherds.

All in all, a rich feast of a film, that never falls back on easy answers. You should see it.

Come see ‘Spotlight’ tonight at the Nickelodeon

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom -- and it's not empty!

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom — and it’s not deserted!

I was interested in seeing “Spotlight” because I’d heard it was the best newspaper movie since “All the President’s Men.”

That’s a high bar. I recently watched it again and was surprised how well it held up. I went to see it at the time because it was topical, and because Woodward and Bernstein were heroes to my generation of journalists. I was really startled at how good it was, independent of all that, going on 40 years later.

And I’ve seen Michael Keaton in a good newspaper movie before. I really identified with his character in “The Paper.” Of course, that was largely played for laughs, making it nothing like this film, which I’m anticipating being rather grim.

So, wanting to see it anyway, I was pleased to get an invitation to come watch it at the Nickelodeon tonight, and then participate in a panel discussion with Charles Bierbauer and Sammy Fretwell.

Y’all should come. The movie starts at 6:30 p.m., and the discussion follows.

The folks at the Nick asked me how I wanted to be billed on the website. I said, “Given the subject, I guess you could call me a 35-year veteran newspaper editor who is also a Catholic.” Which they did.

Obamacare, the Constitution and the Bible: A Facebook conversation

Just thought I’d post portions of a conversation I jumped into over on Facebook.

First, Bill Connor posted:

In watching the fight to defund Obamacare, I have this to say. I am a Christian first, as I believe the Bible is the inspired word. Therefore, it is Truth. That said, the Bible is not silent about the role of government and it’s sphere of authority. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 give the mandate for governmental authority. That mandate is for the “sword” of protection. Protection from external enemies, and protection from lawlessness (law enforcement, Courts) from within the nation. The government is about force in protection. The Church is given the mandate to care for those in need. The Church does not possess the power of the sword, as “Charity” means love. God wants men to give freely and without coercion when it comes to taking care of the less fortunate in society. When Government exceeds its sphere and gets involved with church functions (as in Obamacare, among other things like welfare, etc.) it destroys the idea of Charity. Forcing someone with the sword to give to another is not a Christian ideal. Our founders believed in the Biblical spheres of authority for Church and State and the Constitution makes this law. The Constitution enumerates powers to Government, and those powers do not include Church type functions. Government is to be restrained by the Constitution to the “Sword” functions. Otherwise, Government essentially takes over the Church and all else and attempts to become “god”. That is a reason while I believe the Biblical position to to oppose Obamacare. We care about those in need. However, we are to give to those truly in need through Charity (Love). We did not give the government the power

After a bunch of other people had had a say, I posted:

Bill, in a representative democracy, we vote to elect people to decide what government does. When enough people are elected to decide to undertake something like universal health care, then that’s what we do. If enough people are elected who don’t want to do that, we don’t do that. That’s how the system is supposed to work. It’s really a stretch to make like the government is something outside ourselves coercing us to do something. We, the people, acting through our elected representatives, have decided to do this with the money that we will all pay into it. Does that mean all Americans wanted to do this? No. There probably hasn’t ever been a single action by the government of the United States that all Americans favored. We’re all in the minority on something. But what we do is accept that fact, and work to have our preferred candidates win the next election. In the meantime, we accept the lawful actions of those who have already been elected. We certainly don’t declare lawful actions illegitimate. Nor do we claim, with very thin evidence, that it’s contrary to the Bible. On that last point, I’m not seeing anywhere in the Bible where it says we can’t pool our resources as a people and provide health care for all, and I’d be shocked to find it. Near as I can tell, in terms of saying what the civil government should do, the Bible is pretty silent on something like Obamacare. That leaves the decision up to us and our elected representatives.

Then Bill responded:

Brad, first I appreciate you posting thoughtful note, even though I disagree. Daniel spelled out my opinion exactly. The reason we have the Constitution is to protect certain rights from the whim of the majority. In this case, we had a very quick period of time in which Democrats controlled the House and POTUS. The founders intended to restrain gov’t to its legitimate functions (drawn from the Biblical worldview) and Obamacare exceeds those Constitutional and Biblical limitations.

The another reader (Ltc Robert Clarke) responded:

Brad is right in that the law was passed following our system….but since not a single person in the opposition party supported it, it is bound to face stiff resistance. The people house holds the pursestrings and they should be able to cut the $ off? If you are going to do something this big, best to do it as a bipartisan effort.

And finally, I said this:

Yes, that is best. But when is the last chance we had in this country to do that? Both parties operate on the strategy of getting 50 percent plus one, and then doing whatever they like — which sets off the other party in paroxysms of desperation, because both parties look upon the other, and all its works, as completely lacking in legitimacy. Both parties need to chill, and accept the fact that sometimes people they disagree with are going to win an argument, and just try to win themselves next time around. It’s really getting overexcited to see Obamacare as some sort of Gotterdammerung, the end of all that is good and holy and American and Constitutional. It’s just not. It’s a fairly ugly, pieced-together mish-mash that IS so ugly because there is such opposition to taking the simple approach that Britain and Canada have taken. This is the kind of mess that our hyper-polarized politics produce. It may be too much of a cobbled-together mess to work. But we’ll find out when it’s implemented. It’s going to work, or it’s not going to work. Or it will work in some ways, but not in others. But we won’t know until it’s been in place for awhile.

I didn’t want to get into arguing about whether our Founders intended the Constitution to be “Biblical.” I preferred to stick to this not being the end of the world, or even of the country.

But how about those spiffy MODERN blue laws?

Got a release today from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, calling my attention to a NYT editorial headlined "A Dry Sunday in Connecticut," and saying that in case I wanted to write anything about Sunday sales of liquor, to consider the following:

  • Archaic Blue Laws make no sense in a 21st-century economy where Sunday has become the second-busiest shopping day of the week.
  • Beer, wine and spirits are already permitted for on-premise consumption at bars and restaurants seven days a week.  Allowing the sale of beer, wine and spirits at off-premise retail outlets on Sunday would simply give adult consumers more choices and added convenience.
  • The state will benefit from the increased tax revenues generated by an additional day of package store sales.  Contrary to some who believe that Sunday sales will just spread six days of sales over seven, recent implementation of Sunday Sales in 12 states (Colorado’s repeal was too recent for data) shows that in 2006 Sunday sales generated $212 million in new sales for retailers.  This figure is expected to increase annually.  See economic analysis of those states here.
  • No legislation forces any package store to open on Sundays. It simply gives store owners the right to decide for themselves which days to open. 
  • Sunday liquor sales will not lead to increased drunk driving.  According to an analysis using government data on alcohol-related fatalities, there is no statistical difference in states that allow Sunday liquor sales compared to those that do not.

Which provokes me to say,

  • First, we have no plans to do any editorials on the subject. I doubt we would reach consensus, partly because I'm such a mossback. I miss having a day of rest, so pretty much anything that is still proscribed on Sunday, I'm for keeping it. And before you secularists have a fit and fall in it about "establishment of religion," yadda-yadda, I don't much care which day of the week you pick. Make it Tuesday, if that makes you feel less threatened and oppressed. Just pick a day on which we can all kick back and not be expected to run around and get things done, just because we can. And don't give me that stuff about how I don't have to shop just because the stores are open. Yes, I do. There is so much pressure on my time that I can't possibly get everything expected of me done in six days, and if you give me a seventh on which to do them, I'll have to use it. And if you don't understand that, there's no point it our talking about it. The only way to have a day of rest is for there to be a day in which we roll up the sidewalks, so to speak, and everybody understands that you couldn't do it that day, so they don't expect you to. Now I know we're not going back to those days, but I am not inclined to add anything else to the list of stuff going on 24/7. You remind me that "Sunday has become the second-busiest shopping day of the week," and you think that's an argument for doing something else on Sunday? You're kidding, right? It just makes me tired thinking about it. Get somebody else to write your editorial; you're barking up the wrong tree with me. And all of you kids, get off of my lawn! Dagnabit.
  • Is your use of the term "archaic blue laws" meant to suggest that there's another category of spiffy, modern blue laws that you don't mind so much? Or are you just being redundant?
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but your point about increased tax revenues means that people will be buying more liquor, right? I see how that's a good thing for you and the fine folks at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, but how is that a good thing for the rest of us?
  • Yeah, right — nobody would be forced to open on Sunday. This reminds me of when I worked in Jackson, TN, and the owner of the largest department store in town fought against lifting the blue laws because he said that if you lifted them, the big chain stores would come to town and drive him out of business. Besides, he liked giving his workers Sunday off. And he was Jewish, by the way. The newspaper ignored him (even though he was its biggest advertiser, for those of you who keep track of such things) and kept advocating for lifting blue laws, that eventually happened, the big chain stores came to town, he had to open on Sundays, and he soon went out of business anyway. When it comes to competition, folks, "choice" can be a myth. If your competitors are all doing it, you have to.
  • I'll take your word for it on the drunk driving. Although it seems a bit weird that you'd be selling MORE liquor (remember the tax revenues thing), but people won't be driving drunk more. Whatever.

Just look upon me as a disgruntled beer drinker — one who was perfectly happy buying enough on Saturday to make it through the weekend, and thinks anybody who wasn't organized enough or self-aware enough to know ahead of time that he might want a beer on Sunday is pretty pathetic. Dagnabit.

Notice how this hasn’t helped with SC jobs

Tomorrow's op-ed page features this Trudy Rubin column about how, in tough economic times, xenophobia and scapegoating of "the other" tends to rise. She speaks of the synagogue trashed in Caracas, similar incidents in Argentina, the Vatican's recent mess with the reinstated archbishop, etc.

And just in passing, there is a mention of a type of scapegoating we have seen in this country:

    Of course, it won't just be Jews who will be scapegoated. It can be Chechens or dark-skinned people from the Caucuses in Russia, or migrant workers in Chinese cities, or illegal immigrants in the United States.

Well, yes and no, in terms of the direct correlation to the economy. We saw the rise of resentment of illegals peak BEFORE the economy's recent southward trend. And in fact, one has heard a lot less about it recently than one heard back before John McCain became the GOP nominee (except, of course, from the kind of GOP voter who said they would not vote for him, not no way, not nohow).

Of course, there are some here in SC who would attribute the quieting of the anti-illegal lobby to the terrific job they say they're doing. I just got this release today from S.C. Senate Republicans:

South Carolina’s Immigration Laws Could Be Severely Weakened

Federal Government May Not Reauthorize E-Verify Program

Columbia, SC – February 17, 2009 – South Carolina’s State Senators are taking action and asking the United States Congress to reauthorize a federal program that is presently allowing the state to crack down on illegal immigration.  State Senator Larry Martin (R-Pickens) today introduced a resolution urging Congress to reauthorize the E-Verify program.
    E-Verify is an Internet based program run by the Department of Homeland Security, which allows for the instantaneous verification of an employee’s residency status.
    After an outcry from businesses, workers, and taxpayers across the state, the South Carolina General Assembly last year passed the nation’s toughest illegal immigration laws. Using the federal government’s E-Verify program, South Carolina’s new laws give the state the ability to punish those who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.  Unfortunately, South Carolina’s laws could lose their teeth and be severely weakened if Congress does not reauthorize E-Verify.
    Senator Larry Martin says the affect on South Carolina’s economy could be devastating.  “We now have the third highest unemployment rate in the nation due to this harsh economic environment. Our new law has stopped the influx of undocumented workers in South Carolina. We need to ensure that every available job in the state is being filled by a legal United States resident.”
    Martin continued, “E-Verify is the most cost-effective, secure, and reliable tool for businesses to verify the residency status of their employees. I can not urge Congress enough to reauthorize this vital program.”
            ###

So basically, he's saying we've got to keep out the illegals to protect our jobs. To which I say, what jobs? The period during which he's saying SC's done a great job of keeping out illegals (which remains to be seen, but let's play along) is a period in which unemployment in SC has soared.

Here's a clue, folks: You know what's more likely than anything else to keep out illegals? The continued decline of our economy, that's what. When there aren't jobs to be had, they're going to stay away. But is that what we want?

Think about it: Would you rather have high unemployment and keep the illegals out, or low unemployment but with illegals here? I'm sure the choice before us is not a pure question of either-or, but a basic understanding of supply and demand would suggest that there is a high correlation…

Happy birthday, Abe and Chuck

So, if you were invited to simultaneous birthday parties today, for Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, and the actual honorees would be there alive and participating in the celebration, which one would you go to?

Me, I'd pick Lincoln. They say he was a lot of fun at parties. Also, I look up to him and what he did more.
Nothing against Darwin, but I suspect that if he hadn't worked out natural selection, someone else would have. But if Lincoln hadn't been president, the union would have fallen apart — nobody else would have been as single-mindedly stubborn about holding it together. I mean, why do you think so many of my fellow South Carolinians are still ticked at him? And even though all of my ancestors that I know about fought for the opposite outcome (five great-great grandaddies that I know about), this Southern boy is glad that the U.S. of A. is still around. So it all worked out well in the end.

All of which reminds me that I need to get back to reading Obama's favorite, desert-island-must-have book, Team of Rivals. I've let myself get sidetracked with re-reading O'Brian, and reading Moby Dick for the first time, so I need to buckle down and get back to Goodwin.

As for Darwin, I thought I'd share this interesting piece that I saw in The New Republic, headlined "Charles Darwin, Conservative?"

Basically, it examines the great irony of modern politics, which is that conservatives tend to snub Darwin, even though his idea of order arising from nature without a guiding plan fits THEIR ideas about how society can produce civilization without guiding government.

Meanwhile, liberals who honor Darwin act as though they don't believe in that principle one bit, since they think you need a strong guiding hand of government to have order.

George Will made much the same point in his column that we ran Sunday, but I think the point is made more clearly in the TNR piece.

By the way, I side with the modern-day liberals on this point: I don't think you can have order without
government. Take away the guiding hand, and you get Somalia — warring militias running around firing AK-47s at everybody. But you know already that I thought that. I'm a rule-of-law guy.

As for the thing that everybody fights about over Darwin… Well, I'm a Catholic, and I hear the pope made peace with Darwin awhile back.

You know what I think about evolution, and natural selection? I think that is just exactly the way God would create the world. I don't see Him doing it like Cecil B. DeMille, six days and abracadabra, here's the world. I think He'd do it the slow, majestic, complicated way. Evolution seems just His style, to me. But what do I know?

(Now watch this: The controversial part of this post won't be the Darwin stuff; it'll be that I said nice things about Lincoln.)

Getting into the proper spirit

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By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor
EVERY YEAR AT this time, I have to admit that I have failed yet again to get into the proper spirit of Advent — that is, I admit that when I find time to think about it at all.
    This is not my fault. Advent — which the church tells us Catholics should be a time of quiet, contemplative reflection and anticipation — couldn’t possibly come at a worse time. I mean, it’s just before Christmas! I don’t know about you, but the month for me consists of longer hours than usual at work — backing up co-workers taking those vacation days they have to take or lose (and which they richly deserve, let me piously add) — with every minute of nights and weekends taken up with social obligations, pageants and other things you’re too harried to enjoy the way you should, and the patriotic imperative of shopping more than you do in all the other 11 months combined.
    When our kids were little, my wife would gather the family each evening — when I got away from work early enough, even I took part — for a little Advent wreath-lighting ceremony at our kitchen table. Just thinking about that, and how long ago it was, makes my heart hurt — which is not very descriptive, but I can think of no better way to put it. Sort of the way Scrooge felt witnessing Christmases Past. Lately, I have only been mindful of Advent during one hour on Sunday, with the church’s much-bigger wreath up there next to the altar. I think, one, two, three candles… must be the third Sunday of Advent… I wonder if I could swing by Harbison on my way home….
    That’s the extent of my mindfulness of the season.
    On Monday — as the U.S. economy continued spiraling downward, the University of South Carolina announced its plans for $39 million in budget cuts, a state panel called for K-12 teachers’ salaries to be frozen, Congress and the White House furiously negotiated a doomed bailout of Detroit automakers, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (in his last hours of freedom) dared the feds to listen in on his conversations, and the odiferous mess at the Columbia sewer plant continued to reek — it suddenly came to my attention that I had three weeks of vacation coming to me that I was going to lose, which happened to be more time than there was left in our fiscal year. Which was neither here nor there; I knew we were far too busy for me to take any of it off, so nothing to be done about it…
    … when suddenly, a voice somewhere deep inside me said, Dammit, I’m gonna have me some down time during Advent if it kills me — which is not exactly the attitude that the church prescribes, but it was as close as I was going to get. I saw that nobody else in my department was off on Wednesday and Thursday, so on Tuesday I whipped out an editorial against the Detroit bailout deal, told everybody I’d see them Friday, and took off before anyone had recovered enough from the shock to stop me.
    What did I do with the time? This is the good part: I spent the days taking care of my 11-month-old twin granddaughters. One of them had scared us with a bout of the croup earlier in the week (one visit to the doctor, another to the ER) and still had a raspy cough, their mother (my oldest) had to get back to work after taking off those days, my wife was jammed up with commitments and suffering from a bad cold herself, and my son-in-law was in a neck brace from falling off of scaffolding remodeling their house. I won’t tell you what was happening with the rest of our four kids, except to say everyone had a lot to deal with — some of it very painful and difficult, and too personal to go into. But for once, I was able to be there for my family for at least one of the many things they needed that week — which I think was a bigger shock to them than to the people at work.
    Here’s what I did on Wednesday: I got up earlier than I do on workdays. I took my older granddaughter, who had spent the night with us, to her house to change clothes, then to school. I picked up the twins and took them to my house. I fed them breakfast, one in my lap and the other sitting in the busy saucer play station thingy — one spoonful for you, and one for you…. I changed their diapers. We played with blocks on the living room rug. I changed their diapers again. I carried them upstairs for their naps. When they woke up, I changed their diapers again and took them on a quick walk around the block (the most exercise I’d had in weeks) before mixing up their lunch. My mom dropped by (normally, I never see my parents during the work week) and fed one while I fed the other. We played peek-a-boo, which convinces them I’m the world’s greatest wit for having thought it up. I fixed them some bottles, and my mom and I held them while they drank them dry (these are the world’s most cooperative babies; they eat what you feed them, and go to sleep at nap time). I changed their diapers again, and carried them up for their second naps, and then their mother came to get them.
    On Thursday, we did the same, with slight variations. Each time at the end of the day, my daughter thanked me for keeping them, which means that she had it exactly backward.
    No, it wasn’t a time of quiet prayer and contemplation. And yet, it was. Those two days grounded me in a kind of physical, emotional and spiritual sanity that was, for me in December, an altered state. I can’t really explain it. Let’s just say that when I got back to work and found that the world was still talking about Rod Blagojevich and the Detroit bailout, and our state budget was being cut another $383 million, with the brunt hitting education and health care, I longed to be doing something that made as much sense as changing a poopy diaper. Or better yet, two of them. Changing dirty diapers makes sense, to the changer and the changee, and the process is far less objectionable than looking at, or thinking about, Gov. Blagojevich.
    You know what? Nobody else is off this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. Don’t look for me here on those days.

Get into the spirit at thestate.com/bradsblog/.

Cuties_007

This turbulent priest

A reader, Matthew Butler, sent me this e-mail today:

Obviously I’ve read the news (over the top) about the actions of Fr. Newman
in Greenville, what appears to be NOT over the top is the type of echo
chamber that St. Mary’s is. This is Fr. Longnecker’s, the pastoral associate
(and a married priest!), response to the election. I know we’re supposed to
‘speak truth to power’ and sometimes that involves harsh words, but really?
 
 
Just wanted to get your opinion on the matter.

Here’s the reply I sent:

St. Mary’s is
a very conservative parish. I’ve been to Mass there. I know we’re not supposed
to make judgments about people based on outward appearances, but I have to admit
that that was the most WASPish, Republican-looking, country-club congregation I
ever remember seeing in a Catholic church. It gave me a sense of dislocation.
Not that any of that should matter.
 
As for Fr.
Longnecker (sounds like a guy you’d want to have a beer with, just going by the
name)… in his position, as a person who admittedly doesn’t think much about
politics, I could see having his attitude.
 
I like Obama.
But to like anybody, there’s always something you have to overlook. With Obama,
the biggest thing I have to overlook is his position on abortion (plus the
mental gymnastics he goes through to justify his position constitutionally). If
I did the opposite, if I looked at Obama primarily through his position on
abortion, I would be horrified by him. And being horrified, I could see myself
using some pretty strong language to describe him (although I’d probably be more
likely to invoke Henry II than Herod). Obama does have a cold-blooded view of
the issue that is disturbing
, considered in a vacuum.
 
Obviously,
Fr. Longnecker’s view of Obama is untempered by any consideration of him beyond
abortion.

Ironically, that exchange occurred while I was working on my Sunday column, which is all about POSITIVE thoughts I’m having about the president-elect…

Obama and McCain: The Halo Effect

Obama_halo

A
fter the Democratic Convention, I grabbed the above picture of Barack Obama, thinking I had not yet seen a more perfect photographic invocation of the notion that Sen. Obama was The One.

I didn’t think Republican lighting engineers could top that, and they didn’t, but they certainly tried. Note the photo below from Sen. McCain’s Thursday night address. Now you see why he has made some long-delayed inroads among his evangelical base.

Mccainhalo

Private clubs in Columbia TODAY

Remember that I told you last week that Clif LeBlanc was going to have a follow-up story on the Cap City Club anniversary, a piece that would tell us to what extent local private clubs have become less "exclusive" in the bad old sense over the past 20 years?

Well, he did, and I meant to ask y’all for your thoughts on it. Here’s a link to his story. Short version — most clubs are more open. At least one still has no black members.

If you go read Clif’s piece, and you’re so inclined, please come back here to discuss it.

Slight error in Sunday column

My pastor, Msgr. Leigh Lehocky, gently corrected me this morning. My column said St. Peter’s "Parishioners live in something like 35 ZIP codes." He told me the number is now 46.

I probably remember the 35 figure from back when I was president of the parish council, back in the early 90s. I’ve heard different numbers since then, and consider it one of those wobbly numbers that can never be perfectly correct — even if you give the precise count for right now, based on parish registration, registration itself is a fuzzy thing — not everyone who attends our masses is registered, and some who are registered could have left us.

My point was that it was a bunch of ZIP codes, and I knew I would not be exaggerating if I said 35, so I covered myself by saying "something like." Bottom line, I’m right — it’s a bunch.

Msgr. Lehocky reminded me of something else I’d forgotten. Speaking of The Big Sort, the book that inspired the Robert Samuelson column that inspired my column, he said, "That’s the book I was telling you about a couple of weeks ago." Monsignor had been reading it, and recommended it to me. All I knew was that when I read the title in the Samuelson piece, I knew that I recognized it from a recent conversation; I had forgotten with whom.

Msgr. Lehocky said the book beats up on churches for the usual MLK thing (about 11 a.m. Sunday being the most segregated hour in America), but agreed that St. Peter’s was something of an exception to that "rule."

"And thank God for that," he added.

And perhaps our parish — and particularly the sub-community of those of us who habitually attend the only Mass that is bi-lingual — is an exception. But it’s the only church community I have, so my point that I don’t have the kinds of associations Mr. Bishop writes of — at least, not in any form that comes to mind — holds true.

‘The Russert Miracles:’ Hitchens is one peeved atheist

Christopher Hitchens is right about one thing — the media go nuts when somebody famous dies. Sure, report the news. Eulogize if appropriate. But don’t go on and on about somebody who is neither a member of the reader’s/viewer’s family, nor even a casual acquaintance. It’s just too much. (Today, it’s George Carlin, who, thanks to his having gotten us to snicker at dirty words, is now a "comic genius" and a "necessary iconoclast," whatever in the postmodernist world THAT means.)

This is a point of contention — mild contention, but contention nonetheless — between Robert Ariail and me. Robert comes into my office saying, "I know you don’t like these, but I was thinking of having (place name of deceased celebrity or newsmaker here) at the gate with St. Peter, and…" And I will groan or say, "Well, if you must, but don’t ask me to like it…" Personally, I want cartoons to be funny, and have a political bite. I’m not into maudlin.

So I can sort of dig where Mr. Hitchens is coming from. The difference between him and me is that he just can’t stand to let other people BE maudlin, and get on with his life — live and let live, would be the usual phrase. He has to complain about it. Just as he gets furious that other people believe in God, he can’t sit still until other people get over losing Tim Russert.

As usual, his piece in Slate is quite readable. But as commentary, it definitely breaks the "leave well enough alone" rule for getting along in civilized company. He makes like there are three "Russert miracles" he feels constrained to debunk, but I don’t think the first two really bothered him, especially since he LIKED Russert and had written nice stuff about him himself (he even got a tad maudlin). It’s really just the third one that ticks him off:

Last on the list of miracles (and do please beware anything that comes in threes) was the apparition of a huge and beautiful rainbow arcing over the Potomac as the mourners came up to the Kennedy Center rooftop for a reception. In the words of NBC News executive Phil Griffin, "After the magical experience of this service, to come out and see the rainbow and Luke at the bottom of it made the last dry eye weep." It was further pointed out that the last song at the memorial service had been "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Tim’s son, Luke, was quoted as asking, "Is anyone still an atheist now?"

Not pausing to answer that question, I think this media myth-making, however tongue-in-cheek some of it may be, helps our understanding of why people are theists. After all, just remember why we mourners of that day were gathered in the first place. One of our friends and colleagues had been struck stone dead by his coronary arteries, in the prime of life, at just the moment when he had been celebrating his son’s graduation. He had had everything to look forward to. For my part, I was distressed by all this, and sorry about it, which is why I donned a tie and went along to bow my head. But now I read that, because of room-temperature political politeness and the vagaries of the weather, I was supposed to have been grateful for the bereavement? What if it hadn’t been an election year? What if the network couldn’t have contacted a rock star? What if the sky had been merely sunny or had filled with lightning? Surely our mass media would adopt a tone of polite condescension if it was reporting on such primitive attitudes in the backlands of Alaska or Peru or Congo.

In other words, what got him was the usual thing.

But regarding the rest of it — I do take his point. I just try to be tolerant, and not rail against these things. What’s the point, other than to make other people in the world less happy, or less comforted, or whatever?

The ‘Jewish lobby’

Check this letter on today’s page:

Hollings speaks truth about Middle East
    I agree with former Sen. Ernest Hollings on his answer, as stated in the June 15 State, to James T. Hammond’s question, “How do you think our policy in the Middle East should change?” Sen. Hollings said, “Settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and 80 percent of the problems will disappear.”
    In order to solve a problem, all facts must be truthfully presented. As long as it is considered anti-Semitic to state true but politically incorrect facts about Israel, it is impossible to solve the Middle East problems. If we want to solve these problems, get rid of the Jewish lobby (the biggest lobby in Washington), and get the facts on the table.
HARRY L. NORTON SR.
Summerton

I bring it up to suggest that Mr. Norton should check out this piece in Foreign Affairs that I mentioned previously. It makes it pretty clear that U.S. support for Israel — whatever you may think of it — has long been based in widespread support among NON-Jews in this country. Argue that this nation should take a harder line on Israel if you like. But to complain about the "Jewish lobby" is to miss where most of the support of current policy is coming from.

Rev. Wright still fails to clarify

Just in case anyone was still confused, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright emerged over the last day or so to explain (I think) what I’ve already said about his sermons: He meant what he said the first time.

It seems he was being "descriptive," not "divisive."

Asked whether he thought some of the things he said might be less than "patriotic," he changed the subject — he mentioned his service in the Marine Corps in his youth, and mentioned that Dick Cheney never served. To which I say, "Huh?" To elaborate, thank you for your service, Reverend — I stand in awe of anyone who has been a Marine. But did you mean "God Damn America" or not? Were you being ironic, or stating a wish that was not your own, or was that "descriptive?" And how does that message square with Semper Fidelis?

I should mention that he also explained that if you take exception to his message, you’re a racist. Just so you know.

He also made the same argument that has been made in his behalf by others, that his remarks have been taken out of context — mere "soundbites." I’m still waiting to hear the context that makes "God Damn America" mean something else. Sadly, I’ve not heard it yet.

Poor Obama. With friends like this one…

Why Wright’s outrages don’t turn off Obama supporters

Moss Blachman sent me (and a bunch of others) a copy of a piece from The Jewish Week Web site that sorta, kinda expresses my attitude about Obama and his pastor — what Rev. Wright said was utterly beyond the pale, and yet it doesn’t turn me against Obama. An excerpt:

    The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Sen. Barack Obama’s longtime pastor, says
some things that really offend me.  As a passionate Zionist I take
offense at his cruel reference to an apartheid regime going on in
Israel. As a patriotic American I shake in disgust at the “God Damn
America” sermon he gave soon after the tragic events of 9/11. His
ongoing association with Louis Farrakhan troubles me deeply, since
Farrakhan is a bigot. Indeed, I once led a group of protesters into the
office of Anthony Williams, former mayor of Washington, D.C., and
begged him not stand with Farrakhan. 
    At the same time, I do not view Rev. Wright’s remarks as a reason not to vote for Barack Obama. I may or may not decide
to vote for him, but not on the basis of his longtime pastor’s politics.

Of course, Obama’s relationship with this guy doesn’t help him with me, but it’s not a deal-killer, any more than it is for Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who wrote the piece.

Another thing I liked about the piece — and for me, this is a separate point from the whole Wright/Obama thing — was this statement:

A congregation should not identify itself with a specific political
party, but a religious leader should feel free to express himself on
issues that he deems of social and political significance.

As I wrote before, I was impressed at the political moral teaching I heard from the pulpit (is "pulpit" the right word?) at a synagogue up in Greenville several months back. Of course, the difference between that and the inexcusable stuff that comes from the Rev. Wright are very, very different.

Wright context doesn’t change message

OK, I finally got around to watching one of those longer clips of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — specifically, one that contains the "God Damn America" part. I’ve been told many times that I just needed to get the context to understand that what he said shouldn’t be understood in the stark way that I have understood it.

The Rev. Joe Darby, in his op-ed piece on today’s page, suggested the same point:

… America is still focused on a few ten-second sound bites from Rev. Wright’s 30- or 40-minute sermons

Anyway, I watched this six-minute, 48-second clip — and it doesn’t change a thing. "God Damn America" still means "God Damn America." There’s no part in which he says, suggests or even hints that he didn’t really mean it, or that he thought America was in danger of damnation, and he wanted to save it. No, if anything, it’s clearer that he meant what he said.

But I think some of the well-meaning folks trying to explain all this to me are actually misunderstanding me. Start with the assumption that I somehow lack information. Aside from the above quote suggesting I need the context of the remark, the Rev. Darby also says:

Dr. Wright’s critics also need to learn more about the historically black church and its clergy…

I surely don’t claim to be an expert on the black church, especially in the presence of Joe Darby, who lives it. But no one has told me anything about the black church, in the course of "explaining" Mr. Wright to me, that I did not know. Sure, maybe something is lost in translation, but so far I’ve seen no indication that that’s what is at work this time.

But what Mr. Wright said is clear. The six-minutes-plus of context that went before "God Damn America" was exactly what I would have guessed went before it. Essentially, it was a review of history, mixed with a small dollop of political partisanship (the comparison of not-so-bad presidencies with the current one). Short version: The government has upheld oppression of black people during the course of American history.

Folks, I’m an American history major, and I’ve lived in this country for most of 54 years. What part of the rather sketchy overview in that sermon do you think I didn’t know already? If I’d been sermonizing, I could have added a lot to it — including the fact that the blood offering of the Civil War, as horrific as it was, seems to have been an inevitable sacrifice to expiate the sin of slavery. And I would have said the evil didn’t end there, nor could it, there being original sin in the world, and no one of us since Jesus Christ born free of it.

But I wouldn’t have said "God Damn America." Not in a million years. For me, the point of bringing up evil is to try to overcome it — as I believe two people Mr. Darby mentions (King and Bonhoeffer) were trying to do.

Sorry, but I can’t accept that the Rev. Wright was saying "things that challenge America to rise above its sins of prejudice and greed." No, if he’d said America was in danger of damnation, or headed straight thataway, rather as Jesus said to the Pharisees in the example cited by my colleague Warren Bolton this week, that might have been seen as a challenge, perhaps even a well-intentioned warning. (Personally, although he had more right, being God, than anyone else to do so, I don’t remember Jesus ever damning anything more sentient than a fig tree.)

But Mr. Wright didn’t call on us to do anything. Instead, he called on God to damn America.

One last point — Mr. Darby seems to assume, as have other writers, that those who say things like what I just said are against Obama. Well, I’m not. But just because I like a guy, I’m not going to sugarcoat a problem. As I said, Obama gave a brilliant speech, but he did not succeed in separating himself from what the Rev. Wright had said. He couldn’t. If he had disowned him at this point, it would have been crass opportunism, and beneath him.

So this guy I like — Obama — has a problem, one he can’t get rid of. Just as another guy I like, John McCain, is way old — nothing he can do about that, either.

I would suggest that if anyone out there supports a candidate and thinks that candidate is perfect, he should look a little harder. Nobody meeting that description has come along in two millennia. Thus endeth my sermon for today.

More context on Wright sermon

Wright

Warren Bolton sent me this earlier today, and I was going to try to watch the links myself before post it, but it’s going to be so many hours — and probably tomorrow — before I can get to that, I’ll let y’all go ahead and get a head start:

Brad, thought I’d forward to you what someone shared with me. They are video clips of Wright. The first is a longer version of the "God Damn America" sermon. It won’t change your mind, but it puts more context around his comments.

  • http://youtube.com/watch?v=RvMbeVQj6Lw
  • http://youtube.com/watch?v=QOdlnzkeoyQ
  • http://youtube.com/watch?v=8pedwsGGGp0
  • http://youtube.com/watch?v=8pedwsGGGp0
  • http://youtube.com/watch?v=9HjSoMZ7y7A
  • http://youtube.com/watch?v=-w5I1MR1NBg
  • http://youtube.com/watch?v=4ThIdzzb0zc
  • http://youtube.com/watch?v=6yOR_srOUI0
  • http://youtube.com/watch?v=ckz6H3IbYzc

Warren, as you’ll recall, had a column on the subject this week — with a different take from mine.

‘God Damn America’ means what it means

Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen and heard a number of explanations, or attempts at explanations, regarding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright having proclaimed, "God Damn America."

Most of them have been along the lines of the old cliche, "It’s a black thing; you wouldn’t understand," although no one has used those precise words. Well, I accept that on one level or another, I can never fully understand where any other human being is coming from. My own brother has the same genetic background that I do and grew up in the same household, but each of us has had a separate experience of life that has shaped us differently and causes us to express ourselves differently. The farther you get from being my biological brother — or, to describe someone I’ve spent a lot more time with than my brother, my wife — the wider that gap will get. The more different our experiences, the more different our perceptions of the world, and the more different our ways of speaking of the world.

But I’ve got to tell you, "God Damn America" is not a statement that is fraught with nuance. It’s very clear, uncompromising and all-encompassing. In all the explanations I’ve heard for that statement, no one has suggested that the words mean anything different. In English, they can only mean one thing. If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says "God Damn America," I know what he means, even though he and I probably have a lot fewer reference points in common than the Rev. Wright and I have.

And if the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, speaking from his pulpit, deliberately and clearly calls upon God to damn America, and urges his congregation to send forth the same prayer, I know what he means. It means asking God to send America to hell forever. Damnation, under any sense of the word that I have every heard of (and no one has offered an alternative definition in response to this issue), and within any theology I have heard of (and again, no one has offered a different theological meaning of the word), means that and nothing else.

It doesn’t say, "America has a lot to answer for." It does not say, "America is guilty of terrible crimes." It does not say, "America has treated you and me and millions of others horribly and inexcusably, and we can never forgive that." It means to curse America beyond redemption, beyond improvement, beyond a second or third or billionth chance. "Damn" means "damn." It goes infinitely beyond any other obscenity you might utter in expressing your displeasure with America. If you say — and pardon my implied language — "F— America," that is at least something from which the object of your anger might recover. If you say "Kill America," you have at least described something from which it might be redeemed. But the Rev. Wright did not say those things. He said "God Damn America."

I understand hyperbole. I know all about exaggeration for effect. I know that many people have profound, complex reasons for being angrier about the way the world is and has been than I ever will. But this is not about exaggeration. This word is not a matter of degree. It is not about merely using a word that goes quantitatively too far.

I also understand that black homilitic and worship traditions are very, very different from that of, say, my own church, or any that I regularly attended growing up. I’ve been in this country most of my life (like Obama, I’ve lived abroad), and I took in that fact long ago.

And I’ve read the news stories — here’s one that was in our paper today, and another I saw in The Wall Street Journal — that quote experts explaining that it’s different when Jeremiah Wright says it. But it isn’t different. There is no moral context, no separate historical grounding, no cultural style, no emotional framework that gives the words "God Damn America" a different meaning. When, in The State‘s story, the Rev. Joe Darby — whom I have known and respected for years, and to the best of my knowledge would never say "God damn America" — speaks of "the role of the historical black church in ‘speaking truth to power’," I know what he means. I agree that has been the role of the black church, and it has played that role well, and employed hyperbole in the course of doing so. But the point seems to me irrelevant. In what way, shape or form does "God Damn America" constitute speaking truth to anyone?

I also get it that I’m the clueless white guy. I’ve pled guilty to that before. But again, I remain unconvinced that I am too clueless to understand what "God Damn America" means.

Now — does what I am saying here change the fact that I respect and admire Barack Obama, and think he should get the Democratic nomination for president? No, it does not. To the contrary, I was very much impressed by the speech he gave on the subject yesterday, which in so many ways spoke to the qualities that I respect in Sen. Obama. And note that he strongly repudiates his former pastor’s message.

Am I saying he absolved himself from his connection — his extended, deliberate, close association — with a preacher who would say, "God Damn America?" No. He did not do that. And after all the years he has been going to that church, I can’t imagine any words he could say that would accomplish that feat. And if he did, he would be rightly criticized for politically convenient timing.

As a voter, and as a writer who comments upon politics in this country, I am deeply impressed by the transcendent way in which Barack Obama addresses the intensely, damnably pervasive issue of race in America. He says just what I want a presidential candidate to say on the subject, and he says it better than any politician I have heard. He reaffirmed that for me Tuesday.

But I do have to set all that alongside the fact that he has deliberately associated with the man who said — and apparently meant, since I’ve heard about no repudiation from the preacher himself — "God Damn America." That will be something that Barack Obama as a candidate will just have to live with. It can’t be changed, any more than John McCain can change the fact that he would be 72 years old if inaugurated (a very different sort of problem, but just as immutable).

Those are both inescapable facts, and voters will have to decide what weight to give them if these are the two nominees in the fall.

Prepared text of Obama speech

Obama_2008_wart

Here’s the text of Obama’s speech as written. It came in at 10:52, embargoed until he gave it. I’m posting it as it ends, and as I go into a meeting…

EMBARGOED UNTIL DELIVERY
"A More Perfect Union"
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
Constitution Center
Tuesday, March 18th, 2008
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

As Prepared for Delivery

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.” 

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy.  Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787. 

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished.  It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations. 

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time. 

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States.  What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.  I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.   

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people.  But it also comes from my own American story. 

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.  I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas.  I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations.  I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters.  I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible. 

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate.  But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one. 

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity.  Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country.  In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans. 

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign.  At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.”  We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary.  The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn. 

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap.  On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.   

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy.  For some, nagging questions remain.  Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy?  Of course.  Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church?  Yes.  Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views?  Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.   

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial.  They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice.  Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam. 

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough.  Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask?  Why not join another church?  And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way 

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man.  The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor.  He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones.  Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world.  Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories tha t we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity.  Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger.  Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor.  They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear.  The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright.  As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me.  He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children.  Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect.  He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.  I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me.  And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable.  I can assure you it is not.  I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork.  We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias. 

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.  We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality. 

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect.  And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American. 

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point.  As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried.  In fact, it isn’t even past.”  We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country.  But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations.  That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened.  And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us. 

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up.  They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted.  What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination.  That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future.  Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways.  For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years.  That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends.  But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table.  At times, that anger is exploited by politicia ns, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews.  The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning.  That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change.  But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community.  Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race.  Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch.  They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor.  They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.  So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committ ed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time. 

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company.  But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation.  Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition.  Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends.  Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many.  And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding. 

This is where we are right now.  It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years.  Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union. 

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past.  It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life.  But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family.  And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons.  But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change. 

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society.  It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.  But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change.  That is true genius of this nation.  What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed.   Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations.  It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper. 

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us.  Let us be our sister’s keeper.  Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well. 

For we have a choice in this country.  We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism.  We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news.  We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words.  We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction.  And then another one.  And then another one.  And nothing will change. 

That is one option.  Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.”  This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children.  This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem.  The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy.  Not this time.   

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together. 

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life.  This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit. 

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag.  We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned. 

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country.  This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.  And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election. 

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.   

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina.  She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there. 

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer.  And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care.  They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches.  Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice.  Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally.  But she didn’t.  She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign.  They all have different stories and reasons.  Many bring up a specific issue.  And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time.  And Ashley asks him why he’s there.  And he does not bring up a specific issue.  He does not say health care or the economy.  He does not say education or the war.   He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama.  He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.” 

“I’m here because of Ashley.”  By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough.  It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start.  It is where our union grows stronger.  And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.   

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EMBARGOED FOR DELIVERY
March 18, 2008

There were, of course, minor changes in the actual delivery, but I’m not going to try to provide a transcript — you’d have to wait until the fifth of Never for that. But I think most of the changes were minor. For instance, the text says "That is true genius of this nation." But he corrected that to say, "That is THE true genius of this nation…"

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