Thursday, June 12, 2008

McCain should just stop talking

In an article about the Supreme Court, outlining the differences between the two presidential candidates, something became abundantly clear: Sen. John McCain is a jerk.

A jerk that has a serious problem. It is one of the following: 1) he thinks stupid is preferable to intelligent, 2) he himself is stupid, 3) being qualified to judge something only matters when he is the one who is qualified, 4) he believes conservative points of view are trump—beating all others regardless of the logic, 5) he thinks critical analysis is watching your stools, 6) he thinks the legal system should be run by robots—assuming they are programmed with a conservative ideology, 7) he actually thinks that a conservative frame of mind is objective—and doesn’t see the irony, 8) he thinks we are all idiots, 9) he places the welfare of his narrow mind above the welfare of his own children, and 10) all of the above.

Take a look at the article. It is a typical piece that shows why Sen. Barack Obama represents a traditional liberal view of the court, while McCain represents the new conservative movement of the last thirty years. Nothing new here. But scroll down. Take a look at the second half of the article. It points out that Obama taught constitutional law. Instantly he has a whole lot more legal experience than McCain. His word carries a great deal more credibility. He also held the prestigious position of president of the Harvard Law Review. McCain’s experience in this arena? (can you hear the crickets?) And they try to argue Obama has no experience!

But look at the last three paragraphs:

"Both a Scalia and a Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time," Obama said during the Roberts confirmation hearings. "What matters at the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. ... That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works and the depth and breadth of one's empathy."

This seems like a pretty fair assessment, especially considering the proclivity of conservative justices to use that 5% to push an agenda! Especially in light of the pressing constitutional concerns, not the least of which includes Cheney’s Law and the ‘imperial president.’ But let’s continue:

McCain answered derisively in a recent speech recalling Obama's reference to a judge's "deepest values" and "empathy."

"These vague words attempt to justify judicial activism," he said. "Come to think, they sound like an activist judge wrote them."

Hmm. “Judicial activism.” These vague words attempt to justify conservative ideology over a rational interpretation of the constitution. Come to think, they sound like a partisan hack wrote them.

But isn’t the root of this statement more devilish than it sounds at first?

  1. McCain is advocating for a Supreme Court that does not exercise its power: a hands off court. This has led to the current state with the unitary executive.
  2. He is suggesting that it is only activist if it is a position other than Conservative. Or, more specifically, the so-called ‘strict constructionalist’ ideology that is a bastardized ‘historical’ reading of the constitution.
  3. He is name-calling in an attempt to paint Obama as some crazed radical with some strange agenda: an interesting development when his perfect judges (Roberts and Alito) are hell-bent on repealing Roe v. Wade.
  4. He is trying to say that Obama’s experience is not credible because of his mainstream ideology.
  5. He is making an attack on Obama as an “elitist”, and suggesting that he is average.

The frame that McCain is trying to create here, albeit very weakly, is one of safety and security in him: even though his judicial agenda is neither supported by the law community at large, nor by traditional conservatives. Think the neo-conservative equivalent for judges.

Regardless of what McCain’s intentions are, what he is saying, implying, and trying to get you to believe is reprehensible and down-right wrongheaded. If you need another reason to recognize that McCain is a jerk, let it be this one.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What's in a word

I am always thinking about words: how funny they can be, what we fruitlessly attempt to communicate, etc.. I am drawn to what our intentions are behind the words we use. That is why I am looking for a new word.

I have some things in mind, but the search is still open.

The word I’m looking to replace is liberal. Not for the en vogue reasons (Republicans turned it into the L-word, it has lost its majesty in a newly conservative world, it doesn’t completely describe me), but for the linear, oppositional reasons.

Liberalism is, in its nature, inseparable from the enlightenment. Liberalism in its most traditional sense has always revealed a world view—not a view based on a laundry list of political positions, but one that manufactures two elements of human nature: the need to be open and willing to change and the need to maintain traditions and structures. Liberalism was so easily painted as a hostile position, both from its traditional sense to its 1960s-radical sense. Working in philosophical and theological circles, it is easy to see how an obvious reticence (or even open hostility) can arise toward liberalism. This is especially true when painted as a response to “our more naturally conservative nature” and in light of the confusing “traditional” liberalism with modern liberal politics.

Many of my peers decided in the early 90’s to abandon the term liberal to a more politically advantageous and appropriately descriptive term: progressive. The suggestion is, of course, that liberal is too tainted to continue to use (though nobody sees the kooks on the right abandoning the c-word). And from a theological perspective, perhaps it is. The problem, however, is that progressive doesn’t leave the same gene pool. It comes from the same enlightenment mindset in which human beings exist within a continuum and if we work at it, we might progress to the next step. It shares DNA with the idea of social evolution: that we can achieve something called progress within society.

In a postmodern world, the notion of a progressive person or a political label such as liberal are becoming much less useful, and worse, confusing and confounding.

Perhaps a more honest approach to labels (other than the obvious rebellion against them) is to see them less as describing a person and more about describing a movement. This is what is so appealing to many of us about the Emergent movement, within and outside of the church. Emergent, by the nature of its very idea cannot be a descriptor of an orthodox theology or creedal worldview, but a means of emphasizing a couple of shared principles to see change in the community. It is a movement in every traditional sense of the word. In this way, emergent as a term has more in common with civil rights, equal rights, and public safety movements than it does with institutional or denominational affiliations.

But like terms that have come before, emergent has taken on a life of its own. It appears to be seen by many as either a fad or a holy grail, neither of which serve to empower the term. Perhaps the very pursuit of a descriptor that can describe my worldview is another attempt to form a new creedal statement—creating further opposition and confusion.

What ideas do you have about liberalism?