Monday, July 31, 2006

Ivory Tower Irrationalities

The following is my response to Brian Cooney's guest opinion in the Danville Advocate Messenger, "What does 'God, Family, Country' mean?". Cooney's piece appeared on July 24, my response appeared on July 25. Cooney is a professor of Philosophy at Centre College.

Dear Editor,

In his article, "What does 'God, Family, Country' mean," Centre College professor Brian Cooney comments on the words he says he saw at a local Republican group's booth at the county fair. He says of these three words--'God', 'family', and 'country', "I've been wondering what the words mean, and how they are connected."

Cooney then launches into a somewhat bizarre, pseudo-Freudian analysis of these words and their connection to one another, saying that a whole range of conservative political positions, including positions on issues like minimum wage and estate taxes, are somehow tied together by an extremist, patriarchal view of the family. The analysis is so outrageous (to borrow an expression from George Orwell) that only an intellectual could believe it.

Now if you went out on Main Street and asked average people what these terms meant, they would have no trouble telling you. An average person could tell you what the words 'God', 'family', and 'country' meant without any hesitation. So why does Cooney, a philosophy professor at a well-respected college, have trouble making sense of them? Is the air just thin up there in the top floor office of whatever campus building he's in?

He and his ivory tower friends really should get out more.

I have another theory of the connection between these words, and why they would be be emphasized in the rhetoric of a modern political party. Maybe it's because there is a whole class of people like Cooney who populate our cultural and governmental institutions who've completely lost touch with reality and have forgotten what basic, everyday terms like 'God', 'family', and 'country' mean, and therefore are left having to spin exotic theories about them.

Maybe these political groups stress these terms in order to jerk the feet of people like Cooney back down to earth again.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Be Concerned Republicans. Be Very Concerned

Fletcher critics in the state Republican Party establishment launched a counterattack last week against accusations that the Party was shooting its wounded in attacking rather than defending a sitting Governor of their own party. Ted Jackson's remarks in Thursday's Lexington Herald-Leader ("Fletcher's GOP Critics not Disloyal") initially included an incorrect assertion that Richard Nixon was president in 1976, but the mistake turned out to be an editorial error by the Herald.

The Nixon gaffe was the Herald's, but the rest of the article's shortcomings (unless the Herald editors really did the piece up) are entirely Jackson's.

Jackson, who had defended Jack Richardson's fragging of Fletcher in the Courier-Journal a couple of weeks ago, was obviously stung by criticisms that shooting at your own troops was disloyal.

Jackson made clear that the Disloyalists are very uncomfortable with the characterization that they are, in fact, disloyal. It's perfectly fine, he argues, to fire on your own troops--and to abandon them on the field when they are fired upon by the enemy. And it is unfair for anyone to call this practice disloyal. In fact, argues Jackson, to undermine your own leaders is perfectly consistent with the principles of the Republican Party.

"There is nothing," he says, "wrong with Republicans questioning whether Gov. Ernie Fletcher represents our best chance for winning again in 2007."

Furthermore, he argues, it is inappropriate for the Governor's defenders to call upon fellow Republicans to be loyal. And not only that, but to point out that undermining members of your own party by joining their enemies from the Other Party and shooting at them too is bad because it makes the Disloyalists feel guilty about themselves.

"It is dead wrong for Fletcher and his apologists to attempt to use guilt to insulate his administration."

This is the defense of the Disloyalists.

First, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that firing on your troops is disloyal. It just is. You can characterize it however you want, but when your own officials--whom you have helped to put in the places they are--have bullet holes in their back from bullits you fired, then, guess what? You're disloyal.

Secondly, when you abandon these same officials in the face of a political onslaught by the likes of Greg Stumbo, and stand there in silence and watch it happen without lifting a finger, and then criticize him for not handling a situation that was made worse by your own inaction, then you're disloyal.

Finally, when you turn around and find yourself being criticized by other Republicans for being disloyal, and tell them that they're acting inappropriately, then, well, you have obviously lost your grip on reality.

Jackson apparently thinks it's completely acceptable to be disloyal, but it is wrong to encourage other people to be loyal. Furthermore, it's not fair to make he and his fellow Disloyalists feel bad about this.

Be concerned Republicans. Be very concerned.

But the most curious of Jackson's arguments is this one: What Kentucky Republican leaders are doing right now in regard to Fletcher is no different that what Ronald Reagan did when he challenged Gerald Ford for the 1976 Presidential nomination.

"In 1976," says Jackson, "a Republican from California challenged a sitting Republican president for their party's nomination. That man from California had concerns about the direction his fellow Republican was taking the party and the nation. No one could challenge his GOP credentials. Ronald Wilson Reagan had the right to ask the question, to spur the debate. That same debate must take place in Kentucky right now."

Arguing against the 11th Commandment by invoking the name of its author? Bad choice, Ted.

Let's get a few things straight here. First of all, Reagan was challenging Ford on the basis of political principles: Ford was a moderate; Reagan was a conservative. Secondly, Reagan was using the commonly acknowledged processes of the Party to do it: he challenged him in an election.

But that's not what's going on here. No one has announced a challenge of Fletcher. There's no primary going on. All that's going on is sniping.

As to the first point, what aspect of Fletcher's political principles are people like Jackson and Richardson challenging? Do they disagree with Fletcher's political principles and policies? If so, which ones? His stand on abortion? His stand on fiscal restraint? His stand on seat belts? Which one?

As to the second point, it is an entirely different thing to challange an incumbent in your own party in a fair election than it is to criticize him openly when there is no election going on and no candidates of his own party running against him--and an opposition party out there just asking to be beat because it has no candidate and little money.

No one thinks that running against an incumbent is disloyal. It may not be good for the Party in certain circumstances, and it may be unwise for the challenger. But when comments are made in a primary challenge, there's no issue of disloyalty when candidates make criticisms. But Jackson is not a candidate, nor is Richardson.

These two points ought to take care of any comparison between the author of the 11th Commandment and current state Party leaders who are ignoring it.

Then, there is the more general matter of trying to draft Reagan into the Disloyalists' cause.

Oh, but the political memory of the Disloyalist is so short. Jackson's attempt to invoke the name of Reagan is even more absurd when you consider what the argument against Reagan was in 1976 (and in 1980).

The argument against Reagan's candidacy was this: that he was unelectable. He was too conservative. Remember?

Jackson and the Disloyalists apparently forgot this--or chose not to remember it. And what is the argument they are using against Fletcher now? That he is unelectable. In other words, the same argument is being used against Fletcher now that was used--not against Ford, but against Reagan--and somehow Jackson thinks he sees an analogy between Fletcher and ... Ford!

As I mentioned in a previous column ("The Loyalty Gap"--see below), the Democrats would never let this happen in their own party. They know the value of loyalty. If Republicans don't learn this lesson, their political days are numbered.

The new Kentucky Republican political ethos appears to be this: every man for himself.

I like the 11th Commandment much better.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Mistake was Herald's, Not Jackson's

The mistake discussed in yesterday's post on Ted Jackson's Herald-Leader column defending Republican opposition to Flether turns out to have originated not with Jackson, but with the Herald, according to David Adams on a comment on the previous post. We are trying to confirm this with the Herald, but we thought, in consideration to Jackson, that we would say it prominently now.

The column asserted that Richard Nixon was president in 1976, when, in fact, Gerald Ford was president at that time. The column was printed in the Herald with the Nixon comment in it. It was also that way on the Herald's online edition until it was taken off in the middle of the day yesterday. According to one of the comments on the previous post, it was also run in the Courier-Journal without the Nixon reference.

There are plenty of problems with the arguments in Jackson's piece, but, apparently, the assertion that Nixon was president in 1976 is not one of them.

There will be a fuller critique of Jackson's piece posted here on Monday.

Tune in.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Fletcher Critic Gets History Wrong

In his column in yesterday's Lexington Herald-Leader, Ted Jackson, a proment critic of Gov. Ernie Fletcher, compared the current rebellion of Republican Party leaders against their own party's sitting governor to Reagan's opposition to Richard M. Nixon in 1976. Here are the words from his article:

In 1976, a Republican from California challenged a sitting Republican president, Richard M. Nixon, for their party's nomination. That man from California had concerns about the direction his fellow Republican was taking the party and the nation. No one could challenge his GOP credentials. Ronald Wilson Reagan had the right to ask the question, to spur the debate. That same debate must take place in Kentucky right now.

There's only one problem. Richard M. Nixon was not president in 1976. Nixon resigned in 1974. The Presidency was held at that time by Gerald Ford, Nixon's Vice President, who assumed office after Nixon's resignation.

Maybe that is why the reference mysteriously disappeared today on the Herald-Leader's website. The passage now reads without the reference to Nixon, although the print version contained it.

This error would be fairly unremarkable under normal circumstances. After all, we all make mistakes. But the error was made in an argument discussing Fletcher's alleged incompetence in office, and relies on the analogy he tries to draw from a challenge by Reagan of Nixon that never actually happened.

If you're arguing that someone else is incompetent, you'd better have your own house in order.

What are we to make of Republicans who question the competence of Gov. Fletcher who don't even know who the president of the United States was in 1976--particularly when the president was from their own Party?!!!

Jackson's problem is further exacerbated by the fact that his whole argument is based on a mistaken belief about who was president. His argument about Fletcher clearly assumes Nixon was president in 1976.

Maybe we should all be very concerned about the competence of the Republican Disloyalists sniping at their governor. Maybe their current leaders should think about stepping down and letting someone else run their little Rebellion.

Wait a minute. Haven't we heard this same argument somewhere before?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stay Away Fools, 'Cause Love Rules at UofL

If you see a faded sign on the side of the road that says “fifteen miles to the University of Louisville,” you'll be directed toward a university whose board of trustees recently voted to provide taxpayer-funded domestic partner benefits to its unmarried employees with live-in sexual partners.

While the university is in the midst of these sweeping changes, it might want to consider a name change that more adequately characterizes the school under its new policy, and we’ve got just the thing: "The Love Shack." Given the popularity of the song of that name, it would be more nationally recognizable than its present title, and would have a greater attraction for the kind of prospective employees to which it now says it would like to appeal.

In a recent article in the Courier-Journal, Bill Stone, a UofL trustee who claims to be a conservative, said that without such a policy the university would restrict its "opportunities to attract all kinds of folks."

It seems unlikely that the "folks" the university now wants to attract will be hopping in their Chryslers and setting sail for UofL just because of the new policy. (This is, after all, the Volvo crowd we're talking about here). But even if they did head down the highway, looking for Louisville’s academic love getaway, how will the new policy be viewed by other kinds of "folks"--"folks" who aren't looking for a place to work (or a place to send their children) that encourages unmarried live-in heterosexual and homosexual relationships among its employees?

What is UofL's message to these “folks”?

"Stay away fools, 'cause love rules" at the University of Louisville.

In reality (a concept not terribly popular at funky little schools like UofL—or, apparently, among their trustees), the new policy is likely to alienate as many people as it attracts—among both prospective staff and students. The folks “lining up just to get down” are likely to be no more numerous than those who decided not to get in line in the first place.

As the policies of public institutions like UofL stray further and further away from the moral convictions of the taxpayers who are asked to support them, officials in control of those institutions cannot reasonably expect to bang on the door of the General Assembly, with a budget as big as a whale, and demand that legislators ask their constituents to hurry up and bring their jukebox money to pay for it.

This is why the controversy over UofL's policy is now as hot as an oven:
If taxpayers should expect anything, they ought at least to expect the institutions they support not to actively undermine their own values.

"I also want to make it clear," the “conservative” Stone went on, "this is not an endorsement of gay marriage or any of the other lightning issues."

Not so fast. Put all the glitter on it you want, that’s exactly what this decision is.

For years our cultural institutions have encouraged marriage. They have done this because there has been a cultural consensus on one simple fact—a consensus that still predominates despite the attempts of institutions like UofL to ignore it: marriage is good for society. If there is one fact that social science has established over the course of its existence, it is this one.

You can believe what you want to about non-marital, live-in relationships—same-sex or otherwise. You may think they're a Cosmic Thing. But the evidence they are good for society is slim to none, and when it comes to the consequences for children, that’s definitely not where it’s at.

Stone has obviously found in the University of Louisville Board of Trustees a little ol’ place where he can get together with others who see it as responsible to use taxpayer dollars to undermine marriage. We’re quite confident that the whole shack shimmies when Stone and his liberal friends bat these issues around and around and around as they make policy for the university.

Stone has the right to say anything he wants to. But when he starts lip synching the gay rights agenda, he really should be more careful in portraying it as "conservative". If marriage isn't one of those things conservatives are trying to conserve, then there's very little point in being one.

© 2006 by Martin Cothran. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be published without the express written consent of the author. These comments are the personal opinions of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the official opinion of any other persons or organizations.

This piece appears in today's Louisville Courier-Journal online opinion page.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Fairness Alliance Needs to Get It's Own House in Order

Liberals love to feel morally superior. One way you can see this tendency in action is when they call upon other people to live up to standards they themselves are unwilling to abide by. They are morally superior, so why should they have to abide by the same rules everyone else does?

So here comes the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, an organization devoted to minimizing the moral implications of sexuality, yet full of its own preachy moralism, lecturing everyone else, once again, on how to act. Predictably, the Fairness Alliance, along with the Democratic Party, are calling for State Sen. Dick Roeding to resign. Why? Because he said bad things about homosexuals.

Roeding, whose district covers part of the Northern Kentucky area, said that UofL's recent decision to give benefits to live-in sexual partners of their employees that it was "repulsive." He also said that it would attract the "wrong kind of people" to the state. Added to that was his reference to gays as "queers" on the Louiville's Francene Show yesterday.

"He spoke," said state Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan, "in tongues of hatred, bigotry, vulgarity, and that's not acceptable."

Okay. Well, let's first point out that gays call each other "queer" all the time. In fact, they have created a whole academic discipline using the term in its title. It's called "Queer Theory." Needless to say, it's as bogus as Gender Studies and Black Studies from an academic perspective, but it apparently makes a handful of people who are obsessed with exotic forms of sexuality feel good.

Just try a web search and check it out.

At the same time, that's not an excuse to call names. The argument--that because a group of people use a term of themeselves, therefore it's okay for others to do it--does not work, for example, with the "N" word.

So the bottom line is that the remarks were over the top. Not only that, but they weren't nice--Or, to speak in the Christian language we are, unfortunately, fast losing, the remarks were not charitable. You just shouldn't call people names.

But while we're talking about fairness and the problem of some people calling other people names, why shouldn't the Fairness Alliance be held accountable for its past remarks?

The Fairness Alliance has been calling people names for years. How many times have we heard conservative religious people referred to as "bigots" or "religious fanatics" simply because they're religious beliefs lead them to belief that homosexuality is wrong?

And it isn't only the Fairness Alliance that violates the no-name-calling policy on a regular basis. The media is just as bad. They speak in tongues equally hateful, bigoted, and vulgar, but apparently that is just fine with people Like Jerry Lundergan.

If the Fairness Alliance thinks name calling is wrong, and that saying bad things about people they disagree with is inappropriate, then what about their own behavior.

Physician, heal thyself.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Fair Weather Conservatives

Okay, today we unveil the "Sunshine Aware." The Sunshine Award goes to Kentuckians who claim they are conservatives but, when push comes to shove, act as if their conservative principles don't matter. We'll call them "Fair Weather Conservatives."

We're starting out the list of Kentuckians who claim to be conservatives but really aren't with Bill Stone, a Louisville businessman and former Jefferson County Republican Chairman who voted Thursday, along with most of the other members of the Board of Trustees of the University of Louisville, to give special taxpayer-funded benefits to homosexual and heterosexual live-in "partners".

"I also want to make it clear," Stone told the Louisville Courier-Journal, "this is not an endorsement of gay marriage or any of the other lightning issues. This is simply a recognition that people are people."

Now this comment could qualify Stone for a number of other awards, including the "Foot in the Mouth" award for statements that make absolutely no sense whatsoever. We'll unveil that award later. But for right now we'll just observe that conservatives who act in ways that undermine marriage should have their credentials checked.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

State Universities Diss the General Assembly

In pushing for domestic partner benefits, the state's two major universities have thrown down the gauntlet to the General Assembly. Both the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky have, through their words and actions, basically told state lawmakers where to get off.

When U of L's board of trustees approved a domestic partner benefits plan at its meeting earlier this week, it ignored past concerns expressed by several state lawmakers in a letter to University of Kentucky President Lee Todd in 2002. The letter addressed a policy then under consideration similar to the one approved this week by U of L.

Now, UK spokesman Jay Blanton has joined the rebellion by telling the Lexington Herald-Leader, "I don't think there are political considerations with respect to this decision." The remark was carefully prefaced by the disclaimer that the university respects "the opinions of legislators"). Yeah, right. They respect their opinions, it's just that their opinions don't make any difference in the university's decision.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The New Definition of "Bold"

According to the headline in the Lexington Herald-Leader today on U of L's rejection of the importance of marriage, the move was a "bold step." Ironically, one of the arguments used by the university's trustees to give benefits to live-in homosexual and heterosexual couples is that everybody else is doing it.

Back in the days when public institutions encouraged marriage, "bold" meant going against the flow, and doing what everyone else did because everyone else was doing it was considered cowardice.

The story about the university's strong, courageous move to back down in the face of the newest fad in employee benefits (and which includes my remarks) can be found here.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

U of L Divorces itself from Reality

The following is the text of a Family Foundation press release with my comments being sent out to the state media today:

LEXINGTON, KY—“The decision by the Board of Trustees of the University of Louisville to approve domestic partner benefits puts an important tax-supported state institution in the position of undermining marriage,” said Martin Cothran of The Family Foundation of Kentucky. “U of L has now divorced itself from the idea that marriage should be encouraged.”

The University of Louisville Board of Trustees voted 14-1 today to approve domestic partner benefits for its employees, making it the first public university in Kentucky to do so.

“The one thing we know without any shadow of a doubt is that marriage is beneficial to society,” said Cothran. “Not only is this common sense, but the social science research on it is unequivocal. The only reason government (or any other institution) gives special privileges to married couples is because of this fact. This decision by U of L puts the state’s second most significant state university on record in opposition to the idea that marriage should be encouraged. Half of our social problems stem from the weakening of marriages. U of L has now placed itself in the position of weakening it further.

“This puts the university squarely on the wrong side of the most important social policy issue of our time,” said Cothran.

Two years ago, the University of Kentucky attempted to pass a similar policy, only to be rebuffed by several conservative state senators, who objected to the idea. “We believe legislators still know how their constituents would feel about their tax money going to encourage non-marital live-in relationships.”

Supporters of the measure argued that it would help attract and retain good employees. “It is simply beyond the bounds of credibility to say that there are not enough competent teachers and administrators out there who are living in married relationships. This is an unfounded assertion. There isn’t even enough evidence for it to count as an argument."

Cothran said The Family Foundation is considering its options in the next legislative session. “Our message to policy makers will be that any taxpayer-supported institution that does not treat marriage as a privileged institution should not itself be treated as a privileged institution.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Is There Such a Thing as the "American Way"?

In the recent "Superman Returns" movie, the mention of "the American Way" was apparently too politically incorrect to include in Superman's traditional formulation: "Truth, Justice, and the American Way". Instead, the best the editor of the Daily Planet (played by Frank Langela) could do was, "Truth, Justice, and all that other stuff."

When I posted this on another blog, it attracted at least two comments that voiced the skepticism only inherent in the newspaper editor's modified formula. The question those commenting seemed to be asking was, "Is there such a thing as the American Way worth mentioning in the first place?"

This seems to me a very important question, and one to which there is a definite answer.

Of course there is an "American Way", and of course it is worthy of mention. I would say furthermore, that, if there is not, we are all in deep trouble.

I think that the failure to see this is the result of a deep confusion in what a nation, or polity, is, and what our role as Christians is in it. It is a matter I think, of primary loyalty. The concept of a "primary loyalty" is one which few people can articulate, but all possess.

What is a "primary loyalty"? A primary loyalty is a commitment we must have to a thing, and it is a loyalty over which we have no choice and may not even be aware. It is not the result of any commitment we may have consciously made or that we can even escape from. It is something we are born to, in addition to being born into. There are various primary loyalties in our lives. Our family is one of them. If we are Christians, our membership in the covenant community of God is another. Another primary loyalty is that to our community.

When we are born into our family, we take on commitments and responsibilities from which we cannot escape. They are ours by virtue of condition over which we have no control. They are ours whether we wish to accept them or not. When we are told in the Ten Commandments, for example, that we are to honor our father and our mother, we cannot escape the responsibilities of this command by saying that we had no input into who our father and mother were.

Likewise, when we are born into the Church, and are given the sign and seal of this membership in infancy (Baptism), we are shouldered with commitments that are ours regardless of our acceptance of this later in life.

I submit that citizenship is the same kind of primary loyalty as these. If I decide to go 70 mph in a 35 mph zone, and the nice highway patrolman takes me aside and asks why I was going too fast, I cannot say to him that, yes, I saw the sign, but that I had no choice in having been born into a society that sees the limitation of speed as important. I cannot say, "I never committed to following the law, and am therefore not culpable for complying with it."

I can't say that I simply disagree with the laws or with the Constitution or with the current political leadership and expect to be free of the responsibilities that are mine by virtue of my natural citizenship. There are commitments that are mine simply by virtue of my being born into them. There is civil authority (ordained by God, if Paul is an authority on the matter, which he is) that I come under, whether I like it or not.

G. K. Chesterton, in his book, Orthodoxy, takes this point a bit further, and points to another primary loyalty: that to the universe itself--to reality. And he uses the idea of citizenship as the very analog to this:

If a man came to this world from some other world in full possession of his powers he might discuss whether the advantage of midsummer woods made up for the disadvantage of mad dogs, just as a man looking for lodgings might balance the presence of a telephone against the absence of a sea view. But no man is in that position. A man belongs to this world before he begins to ask if it is nice to belong to it ... To put shortly what seems the essential matter, he has a loyalty long before he has any admiration.

...My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty.

The feeling I sense in the comments to the post I mentioned before, in which the American Way (let's take the double quotations off of that phrase so that we do not demean it) is somehow implicated in the fact that there are things about our country that are very obviously wrong. There are things that we do not want to endorse when we confess our commitment to an American Way.

If we say that we are for the American Way, are we not making ourselves complicit in all of the wrongs of our country? Well, we could ask a similar question: If we say that we are committed to our family, are we not making ourselves complicit in all of the wrongs of our family?

Aren't the answers to these two questions the same? I think they clearly are. The answer is, "Of course not." Chesterton says that we can say, "My country, right or wrong," as long as we can say it in the same sense as we might say, "My mother, drunk or sober." There is a primary commitment involved in both cases, one we cannot escape.

Chesterton again:

The world is not a lodging-house in Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.

Is this not also true of our country? We love these things--our family, our country, God--Chesterton would add reality--"with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason."

"Men did not love Rome because she was great," he says, "She was great because they had loved her."

If we cannot say this about America, then I think we are in a pitiable state. We have repudiated a primary loyalty. We can repudiate it, but we cannot escape it.

This being the case, what is the American Way? I submit that it is the same thing as Russell Kirk refers to as the "American Cause" (I use the double quotes here only to introduce the phrase, not to demean it). There are, like there are with all things to which we have a primary loyalty, ideal characteristics.

In the case of the American Cause, there are three elements or assumptions: a moral, a political, and an economic. The moral assumptions involve the Christian view of the nature of man and the proper view of the relation between church and state. The political assumptions are those which involve the concept of ordered liberty, which is based on the Christian view of man--primarily that he has inherent dignity and that he labors under original sin. The economic assumptions are those, again, which involve the Christian view of man, and imply a belief in economic freedom, which is based on this view of man.

The American Way, which is made up of those things to which we, as Americans, owe a primary loyalty, are ideals. The reality, to which we look to see how we measure up to them, do not affect or qualify them. In fact, if we do not have an ideal to which we expect our nation's action to live up to, then we have undermined our ability to criticize its actions at all, since we have not standard by which to criticize it.

Russell Kirk's book, the American Cause, is the best explanation of this that I know. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Kentucky Republicans and the Loyalty Gap

"There is a loyalty gap between the two parties that favors the Democrats. This is why the Democrats don’t need an 11th commandment. Party loyalty is not an afterthought to be attached as a later amendment. It’s in their Decalogue."

The Kentucky Republican Party leadership is lining up against the reelection bid of Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Unfortunately, they have lined up in the manner of what, in less politically correct days, used to be called a "Polish firing squad": they have formed themselves in a circle.

This development says a lot about the governing abilities of Republicans, little of it good. It also marks out the difference between Republicans and Democrats in terms of how they handle crises within their respective parties.

Jefferson County Republican Chairman Jack Richardson was the most recent addition to the circle. Richardson's comments go further than Senate President David William's previous remarks in that Richardson has now explicitly called upon the Governor to end his re-election campaign.

In Kentucky Republican politics, there are many Charlie McCarthy's, but only one Edgar Bergen, which makes it fairly easy to determine, when comments like Richardson's hit the press, who was behind them.

Sen. Mitch McConnell has as complete a control over the state Republican Party apparatus as it is possible to have in modern politics. There used to be party machines that served this purpose. That function can now only be performed by strong personalities, and, if Sen. McConnell has nothing more than this (as, in fact, he does), he has that. It is therefore a foregone conclusion that Richardson's remarks reflect the views of McConnell.

McConnell is matched in political acumen by only two other politicians in the state, one a Republican and the other a Democrat. The Republican is David Williams; the Democrat is Greg Stumbo. Gov. Fletcher now has all three aligned against him. One hopes Fletcher has a good dog: the prescribed form of friendship in places of political power.

There are now factions forming in the party: the sitting leadership on one side, and people like Larry Forgy (former gubernatorial candidate) and Bill Stone (former Jefferson County Party Chairman) on the other.

Stone recently criticized Richardson for saying what he said about a sitting governor of his own party, and basically called for Richardson's resignation on the grounds that part of Richardson's job description was to support Republican candidates and officials.

Ted Jackson, another former county party chairman, came to Richardson's defense, telling the Louisville Courier-Journal, "There is no obligation that Jack Richardson be muzzled by anyone."

Well, for one thing, Stone was not trying to muzzle Richardson; he was calling on people like Richardson to muzzle themselves for the good of the party. For another, since when was it okay for party officials to openly criticize sitting officeholders of their own party? Is this really the Kentucky Republican party's new rule?

If so, look for more circular firing squads.

Have Republican Party officials in Kentucky completely forgotten the "11th Commandment"? This was the political maxim devised by California State Republican Chairman Gaylord Parkinson in Ronald Reagan's 1966 campaign for governor to avoid what had happened to Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. It said, as Reagan phrased it, "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican."

This is the rule that grim party officials pull out their spectacles and read to prolife Republicans whenever there is a prochoice Republican running for office. They are supposed to remember that everyone is "on the same team" and to be supportive no matter what. Let's see if we can devise a lesson here: you must support a fellow-Republican even though he is wrong on the most crucial cultural issue of our time, but it is okay to publicly shoot the knee caps out from under a sitting governor because his political skills are perceived as sub par?

Has the 11th commandment experienced the same fate as the principle of smaller, more efficient government among Republicans?

That Republican party officials should find themselves in league with Greg Stumbo against a sitting Republican governor should bring pause to those who labor under the impression that Republicans can govern competently.

Gov. Fletcher has been labeled as "inept" in his handling of the hiring scandal. In truth, he has not handled it well. But he has handled it no worse than any recent governor (with the possible exception of Wallace Wilkinson) would have handled a similar situation. It is a tough spot to be in: the target of an investigation by an attorney general from the opposing party. No other Kentucky governor has had to face anything like it. And the situation is made tougher by the fact that it is Greg Stumbo in the attorney general's chair.

The protestations of Republican Party leaders that they have abandoned this governor because of his inept response to the Stumbo investigation founders on the rocks of one simple fact: they abandoned him well before the investigation was even underway. Does anyone remember the thunderous silence from party leaders the day this investigation was announced in the media? To hear party leaders tell it, they have fought the good find, and run the race, but all to no avail.

Let’s be honest.

There was no concerted attempt of any significance to come to the aid of this governor when he was targetted by the Democrat’s biggest gun. He was abandoned on the field as the first shots were fired.

To ask how Democrats would have handled a situation differently from Republicans is to run up against an important difference between the two parties: one that marks out the Democrats--all other things being equal--as more capable at wielding power. This can be a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. The difference is this: the Democrats do the loyalty thing a lot better than Republicans. Maybe the machine politics, still a favored form of operation for Democrats until recent times, is behind this. But whatever the reason, it remains true.

Democrats take care of their own, while Republicans shoot their wounded.

There is a loyalty gap between the two parties that favors the Democrats. This is why the Democrats don’t need an 11th commandment. Party loyalty is not an afterthought to be attached as a later amendment. It’s in their Decalogue.

Democrats have less of a tendency to air their differences publicly and a greater tendency to kiss and make up when it matters. Republicans should take note.

And while we are discussing loyalty, we need to remember one thing. Who was it who was chiefly responsible for Fletcher’s rise to the Governor’s office? Was it not Mitch McConnell himself? Was it not McConnell who groomed Fletcher for this position from the political cradle? If Fletcher is really as inadequate as he is portrayed by those who speak at the Senator’s pleasure, then should not McConnell, far famed for his political perception, have seen all of this before it happened?

Another rule of politics is this: You gotta dance with who brung you. If someone helped to put you where you are, you are beholden to them. But loyalty is not a one-way street. If you’ve gotta dance with who brung you, then you outta have to dance with the one you brought.

Republicans have been in the ascendency in recent years throughout the South. Events in Kentucky have mirrored this trend. But if Republicans continue in their habitual practice of self-immolation, the pendulum could very well swing the other direction.

If Republican leaders in this state think that just issuing Fletcher a blindfold and a cigarette is going to solve their problems, they are sorely mistaken. There are times when breaking the bonds of political loyalty is the lesser of evils. But this is not one of them.

This post also appears as an opinion piece on the Louisville Courier-Journal's online opinion section here. It was also posted on the "On the Right" conservative blog.

© 2006 by Martin Cothran. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be published without the express written consent of the author. These comments are the personal opinions of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the official opinion of any other persons or organizations.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Superman vs. Jesus Christ

I am sitting here in my office, the door blocked by formidible stacks of books, beating back repeated assaults from two young boys who are demanding that I take them to see the new "Superman" movie.

As I sit here, occasionally taking nourishment from food and coffee passed to me through small holes in my defensive fortifications from my sympathetic wife, I am pondering a recent post on The Acton Institute’s website by Jordan Ballor about the tendency on the part of Christians to see Christian symbolism in the most mundane of cultural artifacts.

The operative statement in Ballor’s piece is this: “The comic figure of Superman may indeed point us to Christ. Many Christian commentators are right in recognizing this. But if we do truly see Christ through Superman, it is by contrast and not by similarity.”

His argument is that the character of Superman in the movie has more to do with Nietzsche’s “ubermensch” than the Christ of the gospels. The Christ of the gospels, he argues, “embodies mercy, weakness, and suffering.” He “humbled himself and became obedient to death…”

Well, yes, if the story stopped at crucifixion, then that would be a complete picture of Christ. But there are a few things that happened after this that really shouldn’t be ignored; namely, his Resurrection and Glorification–and his installation at the right hand of God Himself. We can’t simply limit our view of Christ solely to the role he undertook in his 33 year mission on Earth.

He was “made a little lower than the angels”, but He doesn’t remain that way.

The main point Ballor sets out to make is that we have a tendency to overstate the significance of the typological similarities of the characters in movies and books. And why not? It gets us out of the problem of being more discriminating in what we watch and read if we can simply attribute some sort of Christian significance to it.

Just look at the popularity of Mel Gibson’s "Braveheart" among Christian ministers as a type of the Christian leader. There’s a lot of discussion of his leadership qualities, but little remark on his little brush with fornication in the movie. That’s not to say that I don’t like "Braveheart" or that I see don’t recognize the Christian symbolism in it. My point (and this is where I agree with Ballor) is that this tendency has turned into an unthoughtful reflex action rather than a critical aesthetic confrontation with the work of art.

Witness the books that play off of this tendency in evangelicals, such as “Walking with Frodo: A Devotional Journey through the Lord of the Rings.” Say whut?

Look, I like the "Lord of the Rings". I think it is one of the greatest Christian books of all time. But a devotional? This kind of treatment just demeans the work itself–just as the silly repackagings of the Bible demean the Holy Scriptures.

Part of this, of course, is due the increasingly trivial and opportunistic Christian publishing industry, which tries to milk every evangelical trend for every dollar it can squeeze from it. (Do you have your “Prayer of Jabez Daytimer for Teens” yet?) And if it can do this by being parasitical on the broader secular culture, all the better. It does save us from the trouble of actually enriching the culture ourselves.

I agree with Ballor’s main point, but not the reasons he gives in support of it. There is very obviously typology in movies like "Superman Returns" that evidences Christ–through similarity as well as contrast.

I haven’t seen “Superman Returns.” But my ramparts will be breached in time, and I will be dragged from my redoubt, forced into a well-cushioned stadium theatre seat, and made to ingest mass quantities of buttered popcorn and Cherry Coke. Once thus installed, I will be able to offer informed commentary on the movie itself.

But there has to be some responsible way for Christians to recognize in a work of art the symbolism that follows necessarily on the fact that all nature bespeaks a Creator without getting silly about it.

See Quiddity for responses to this article by Jordan Ballor of the Acton Institute and others.