The Cottage on the Moor is a place where I'll keep a fire going on cold winter nights and a breeze flowing through the windows on steamy summer days. There will be a "cup of warm" waiting for you to stimulate your mind. I'll try to keep it fresh by adding something every week or two. So come often. I hope you find something you enjoy.
Beginning last Saturday, early voting is available to half
the U.S. citizens. I think early voting is a good idea. Whether voting a month
and a half before the election is necessary, in most cases, I’m not as certain.
But in our part of the country early voting only occurs two weeks before the
election. That is a bit scrimpy I’d say. There must be a “sweet spot” between a
month and a half and two weeks.
But the real issue is whether early voting is a good thing
or not. The reasons for early voting originally were: 1) to allow people living
some distance from their voting jurisdiction (military personnel and people
away on business or extended vacations) to get their vote to the jurisdiction
in time to be counted on election day, and 2) to allow those who knew they
would be out of the jurisdiction on voting day to cast a ballot before leaving.
Those two simple and understandable reasons have been augmented to include
those who have a disability and, in some jurisdictions, anyone who wants to
vote early for any reason.
As a retired old geezer, I tend to do anything I can “early”
in case I don’t feel like doing it at the prescribed time. Seems like a good
reason to me. The two weeks allowed for early voting in this jurisdiction has
proven adequate for my purposes but if it were expanded to 45 days in advance
of the election I’d probably be heading out to vote on this bright sunny early
Of course the political parties have a stake in all of this.
(What is it that the political parties DON’T have a stake in?) A party whose
candidate seems to be quite popular in the weeks ahead of the election usually
likes early voting. However, in a year in which a particular party’s candidate
is struggling to gain the support of the electorate, they are less thrilled with
it. This year, with President Obama running slightly ahead in the national
polls, and considerably ahead in some of the “swing state” polls, Democrats are
quite eager to have the voters cast an early ballot. It is insurance against
their changing their minds later in the campaign, as they watch the debates, or
as they are inundated with millions of dollars worth of negative TV and
Internet advertising. Republicans would like to hold off the voting in hopes
that Mr. Romney’s standing in the polls will increase closer to the election.
Of course the mere fact that voting is allowed early, and
that nearly half of the country can now vote, is no guarantee that half the
country will vote early. In 2008 as many as 30% of the voters in some states
voted early. That leaves millions of voters to cast their ballots on Election
Day. But those who are committed to one candidate or the other, and those who
have made up their minds early will be more likely to vote. It might be useful
to look at the results that would have occurred if only early votes were used
to determine the winner of an election. How much would it change the outcome,
if at all?
One potential advantage of early voting that appeals to me
is that it negates the effect of the negative advertising late in the campaign,
at least for those who have already voted. Those folk must still endure the
irritation of seeing the ads, but have no need to attend to their message. It
might be that those producing such ads would conclude that they are wasting
their money chasing an audience that has already turned them off.
Perhaps that is too much to hope for. The purveyors of
slander might just shift their ads to an earlier time in the campaign. But that
would require them to spend even more if the window of opportunity was kept
open longer by early voting. And again, it might be that they would conclude
that it is too expensive to pursue that route to victory. Anything that
discourages the scandal of political advertising is a good thing.
It may well be that early voting changes the results of an
election, but the opportunity to achieve an advantage through early voting is
open equally to both parties. They just need to make their case early rather
than spin their wheels on petty issues, waiting, hoping they will not be
required to stand for anything, anddoing so only when forced to in the last days of a campaign.
I say, bring on the early voting. It may be snowing on
November 6th in Wisconsin. There will be many sunny days between now
and then when geezers like me, and other people with busy, complicated lives, can
find a few moments to slip into the City Clerk’s office and cast a ballot for
the candidate of their choice.
And having done so, they can then say to the angry, sinister,
lying ads that interrupt their TV viewing pleasure, “Your lips are moving, but
you don’t say a word to me.”
I’m just full of good ideas . . . or something. But I have a
new one to present today. After reading Gail Collin’s light-hearted, but
serious, description of the recent session of Congress in the New
York Times, I’m convinced we must do something to remedy the inaction in
Of course I’m not unaware that inaction, when it stops
incompetents from acting, may be a good thing. But we assume that those we
place in the Congress of the United States are not incompetent. We know that
many of them are clueless when they first arrive there, having no idea about
their responsibilities and certainly no expertise in dealing with the complex
global problems they are asked to address. (Example: In our area we have a man
running for Congress basing his claim to competence on the fact that he has
competed in lumberjack competitions and can still shinny up a telephone pole
with the aid of a belt and spiked shoes. His opponent counters by showing that
he is an affable man who knows how to gracefully fall off a log.) But still, we
assume that over time they will learn to wear a suit and tie, and appear to become
Our founders assumed, I think, that members of the privileged
class (like themselves) would be put forth for election and that the common
people, knowing that they themselves were not up to the task of governance,
would select from the two or three noble men who were nominated as public
But times have changed. The class of noble men has shrunk.
An attempt has been made to fill out their thinning ranks with recruits from
among the wealthy, famous athletes, actors, media stars, etc. In short,
notoriety has been confused for nobility. But even more to my point – which I
will arrive at soon – everyman (including
everywoman) now feels qualified to
sit in the highest halls of government and pass on matters of life and death
for the nation and the world. If you have a valid birth certificate and it
shows you have reached the legal age for the office you seek – you are qualified to serve.
And who can deny an out of work college drop-out (or was he
dismissed for cheating?) the opportunity to achieve great things in politics.
Our Constitution says he is qualified and that is authority second only to Scripture.
So we have followed the trajectory that our Founders unwittingly projected for
us, government of the people, by the people, and (for?) the people. We have a
Congress filled with sheep who are committed to narrow agendas by the promises
they made to get elected, and corralled and commanded by powerful leaders who
control the sources of money they will need to get re-elected. The rules of
order in both the House and the Senate have been so rigged that the minority
can block any action through manipulation rather than debate and conversation.
Compromise has become a traitorous action punishable by a political death
sentence. Consequently, nothing can get done in Congress unless one party or
the other has full control of the legislative process.
And that brings me to my point. We must surrender. Give up
the foolish idea that petty, unprepared, unqualified, incompetent, unreasonable
men and women could ever work together for the general welfare of the nation.
It will never happen. The only way to get anything done in Washington is to
give complete power to one side or the other, give them four years (or
twenty-four) to run (or ruin) the country. It would be best if there were no
opposition members to harass them. Let them have free reign until their
leadership becomes so oppressive and destructive that the people rise up, burn
buildings, tear down statues, attack symbols of authority, and demand a new set
of elections. In fact it might be best that elections not be scheduled on a
predicable recurring basis. Let the party who wins the most recent election do
its will until the people revolt.
I know this isn’t a novel idea. It is the usual form of government
in two-thirds of the world. It has been the norm for human government for all
but the last two or three hundred years. So why should we turn our noses up at
The only alternative would be to elect reasonable men and
women of genuine character who seek office for the purpose of serving, rather
that to wield power, and who know that truth seldom lies wholly on one side or
the other, and therefore compromise is the greatest tool in the hand of the
wise leader. Compromise! Someone said it is “the art politics.”
I would love to present a list of reasonable men and women
of genuine character that deserve our votes. I believe there are a few, but
even they are sullied by the sad electoral process we have allowed to develop.
My only suggestion is to listen for the word “compromise” or at least listen
for a tone of civility; a willingness to admit that there is more than one way
to understand an issue. Listen, not for promises of things the candidate will get done, but for proposals of ways
to get things done. Insist on hearing proposals of ways to get things done.
Listen and look for evidence of a narrow agenda that serves only the interests
of a few at the expense of the many.
We really only have those two choices: 1) reject those who
seek a narrow, divisive agenda, electing men and women of intelligence,
morality, and good will or 2) take a gamble – vote a party line and let the
chips fall where they may, realizing that they usually pile up in front of the
we’d have to go
to places far from us;
to other lands
to understand –
or hidden hovels,
near at hand,
dark with poverty,
within our land –
to see the truly dying.
thank God –
a grace unknown
in meaner streets –
has come to bless
aid our grieving;
provide an art
as ancient as
the enemy itself.
But God alone
must comfort bear
to those who die
without the aid
In war-torn streets,
disease infested huts,
filthy prison cells;
on mothers’ breasts,
on rotting mats,
they die without
of that other
bear to them;
hear their dying prayers;
their breath to thee.
We put a tremendous burden on our politicians when we require
them to speak constantly during the year or so before an election. That is
particularly true of Presidential candidates. In the election four years ago,
then candidate Barack Obama embarrassed himself and potentially offended some
voters by declaring that voters in Pennsylvania “cling to their guns and to
religion.” This year Mr. Romney put his foot in his mouth by declaring to a
group of wealthy supporters that 47% of the citizens believe the government
owes them a living and that the same 47% pay no income taxes.
Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney were in a meeting not open to
the public or the press but, as often happens, a microphone was open (purposely
or not) and their comments became public.
Chuck Todd, of NBCNews explained that Mr. Romney may have
been expressing his true opinions or he may have been “throwing ‘red meat’” to
a group of Conservative supporters because that is what they like to hear.
Presumably he would cut Mr. Obama the same amount of slack for his indelicate
But, if Mr. Todd is correct, does that really provide a
legitimate excuse for such insensitivity on the part of men seeking to become
President of the United States? I think not. If they were speaking what they
really believe it shows a disdain for a large part of the population. Not a
very good attitude for one who will claim that he wishes to be the President of
“all the people.” On the other hand, if he is merely placating the partisan
interests of particular supporters, and doesn’t really say what he believes, he
is a hypocrite and unworthy of any office in the United States.
I don’t know anyone who isn’t convinced that politicians
(and those producing ads for them) are liars, at least to the extent that they
stretch the truth so thin that any honest person can easily see the lies that
their “truth” is meant to cover.
The Presidential debates are coming soon. The candidates
will be asked important questions and then will be allowed to answer them by
bobbing and weaving and mouthing the same half-truths they have used all
through the campaigns. Wouldn’t it be useful if the moderators (and those
others who ask questions) would simply call the candidates to task and require
them to defend the lying ads that their campaigns have been running? The “facts”
in most of the campaign ads have been judged by fact-checking organizations to
be lies at the worst, distortions of truth at their best. Wouldn’t it be useful
to require the men who, in each of their campaign ads, declare, “. . . I
approve this message” to either prove its validity or agree to take it off the
air? Wouldn’t it be useful to present them with untruthful ads run by their
supporting PACs and ask them to renounce the ads, the organizations who produce
them, and the wealthy donors whose contributions make them possible?
That is a “pipe dream” I know. Politicians know that they
will not be held accountable for their prevarications; indeed, their partisans
will stand and cheer when they deliver their lying lines. They will pass on the
untruths in e-mails, and conversation. They will vote for the liar whose lies
tickle their ears most pleasantly.
Wisdom says that “there is a time to speak and a time to
refrain from speaking.” The time to refrain from speaking has come when you
have nothing truthful to say, or when you are afraid to speak the truth because
it may disadvantage a cause you would like to see succeed – by any means
Every so often – they say, annually, but it seems like every
couple of months – a group of several thousand conservative activists meet for
what they call a “Values Summit.” As millions of American Christians are making
their way to places of worship, a couple of thousand men and women are gathering
in Washington, D.C. for the final day of their “worship gathering.” They are
not even a tithe of those, scattered over our country who share their views,
but the messages going out from their meetings speak for millions of others
like them. Many, but certainly not all, who attend are conservative Christian
evangelicals and fundamentalist. But the Summit also attracts conservative
Roman Catholics and even non-believers. It is sponsored by the Family Research
Council and a number of other high-profile conservative groups.
The “values” they stand for are, if one listens to the
speakers: American exceptionalism, marriage defined as a union of one man and
one woman, a constitutional ban on abortion, gun rights, small government, low
taxes, privatization of most current social safety-net programs, increased
military spending, limitations on immigrant rights, the defeat of Barack Obama,
return of government to conservative principals, and more.
There is much to be said in favor of some of the values
promoted by the Summit. Many of the values are actually shared by nearly every
American, conservative or liberal, though the promoters of the summit would
like to claim exclusive ownership of all righteousness; portraying those not in
their group as decadent, anti-American and, in the case of the current
President, dangerous – not American at all.
This week, Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum spoke at their
Summit. Other big name conservatives will likely follow in the next day or so,
perhaps even Governor Mitt Romney. That is to be expected, of course. Liberal
organizations invite liberal speakers; conservative organizations invite
conservative speakers and, guess what? No one’s mind is ever changed. We divide
ourselves in to Fox News people and MSNBC people and reinforce our prejudices
by listening only to that which confirms our biases.
That state of affairs is deplorable, but we have come to
accept it for what it is. It is the way we do politics in the “one nation,
under God.” We do not expect “righteousness” from our media or our politicians
or, sadly, even our Spiritual leaders. We do not “punish” those who lie to us,
by withholding our support for them. Rather we excuse their lies as “less
offensive” than the lies of those we oppose; as merely “fighting fire with fire.”
In November, if we choose to vote, we will have to make a
choice between imperfect alternatives. But we do not have to support lies with
our funds, with our viewership, with our applause, or with our endorsement –
certainly not with our hearts and our souls. We do not have to wear the apparel
of liars, put their bumper stickers on our cars, place their placards in our
yards. We do not have to become card-carrying members of organizations
(political parties, values organizations, even church and para-church
organizations) that willfully disseminate untruth.
And certainly, when a group promotes itself as a “Values
Summit,” we should expect it to either promote worthy values, or declare itself
to value those things that most human beings believe to be valueless. (Even a “summit”
of drug lords promotes values.)
When the crowd at a Values Summit stands and cheers at lies
told a hundred times, and discredited a hundred times, by reputable
fact-checking organizations, they are declaring to the world that they do NOT
value truth and righteousness. When they approve, with their applause, the
mis-quoting, and misrepresentation of their opponent’s words, they show that,
for them, the end justifies the means. When they give assent to distorted facts
and re-written history, they show no respect for the nation they call “exceptional.”
When they value lies more than truth they have no right to ask God to “Bless
America.” Whatever it takes to win, is their motto. They value an election, won
with deception, purchased with millions, and achieved by collusion, more than
their souls, which they have sold to gain it.
Of course, all that is said here, pointing to the
inconsistency of conservatives, needs to be said to liberals as well. They,
too, tolerate slipshod commercials and deceptive messages. But conservatives,
in our time, are staking out their particular claim to righteousness in
politics; their “Values” are, in their view, unimpeachable; approved by God.
Well some of them may be. But if they are promoted by means not approved by
God, “Values Voters” end up looking hypocritical and are a discredit to the God
they claim to serve. They stand as proof that our nation is NOT exceptional; it
is as corrupt as any other that has existed on earth.
Itcould be argued –
I think it is very close to being true – that Christian Conservatives in
politics look no different, sound no different, and use methods no different than
those they condemn in their opponents as demonic – a threat to the existence of
the United States of America.
Instead of cheering the lies of politicians, those at the
Values Summit Worship Service should be kneeling before the Christ they claim
to revere – the one who said, “I am come to bear witness to the truth” – and pledging
to make his standard of righteousness their own.
Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time is likely
to be grateful that I do not possess omnipotent powers. In fact I am glad that
I don’t. I know, too well, how easily I could abuse such power. But there are
those in the world that wish they, or someone with their understanding, were
given the power to “let” or to “restrain.”
It is not easy to know the full motivation of the Muslim
rioters who, as this is being written, are terrorizing the Embassies of the
United States and other western nations in the Middle East. But it seems that,
to some degree at least, they are angry at the United States because one of her
citizens produced a provocative and slanderous video that denigrates the
prophet Mohammad and offends Muslims. As a Christian, who would be incensed if some
unbeliever made a similar film that called into question the character of Jesus,
I understand their anger and their desire to have the film destroyed and its
maker punished for making it. We have seen, in fact, strict Christian believers
react, in ways not much more restrained than that of the current Muslim
protesters, to books and movies that they feel are blasphemous. Sadly, we have
seen photos of American servicemen urinating on a “holy book” for the purpose
of disrespecting the religion of an “enemy.”
If the film in question had been produced by a Christian (or
a Muslim) living in one of the Middle Eastern countries now exploding over this
issue, he or she would not live one day beyond the time it took to identify and
locate them. Outside of the western world, it is rare that a person can speak inflammatory
words like those in the film, Innocence
of Muslems, without landing in prison or running for their life. So it
is understandable that the current rioters are baffled that the United States
cannot bring to justice the person whose ideas are beyond offensive to them. In
their world, speech (and much else) is controlled by the state, which often is synonymous
with the religious establishment. A violation of their “law” is swift and often
There is much “free speech” that I would gladly see banned.
The film that has Muslims around the Middle East upset is one example. But so
are the lying ads on our televisions. And I’m not just talking about the
horribly offensive political ads, but commercial advertising that is either
deceptive or manipulative. I would have turned the microphone off after Clint
Eastwood’s first vulgar joke. (I would probably censor most of his films.) I
would decree that no child could be left in a home where obscenities and
vulgarity are commonplace. I would reverse the Supreme Court ruling that said
that the rich man’s wealth allows him to multiply his voice ten million times
over that of the single mother living in poverty. I would hold people
responsible for lying about their heroic exploits that never occurred. I would
jail those who purposely excerpt phrases from the speech of another and twist
it to mean something other than it originally did. I would rid the world of deceitful,
hateful, obscene, and harmful speech.
But I am not God. I lack the power to enforce my standard
for legitimate speech. And strangely, God Himself seems to have relinquished
that power too by giving mankind a free will. Most of the world’s religions
believe that a penalty will be exacted on those who willfully and consistently
abuse the freedom God has given them. But the harms that accrue when humans
take it upon themselves to define and restrict bad speech and bad behavior
often outweigh the good such efforts seek to accomplish.
The United States, and a few other countries, has decided
that speech that is merely offense to others should not be restricted. In the
current crisis we see the awful consequences of intemperate “speech” and we
wish it could be stopped. But our Founders knew that if one form of speech can
be curtailed so can all others. Only by allowing all to speak freely, do we
each retain our right to speak.
I have no particular Biblical reference for my contention
that God favors free speech, but the evidence is pretty much in my favor. He
didn’t “say it,” exactly, but he seldom strikes perpetrators of intolerance and
smut with lightning. Not yet, at least. What he does do, is leave them to “reap
the whirlwind”. The man who made the offensive film must now fear for his life.
The lying politician eventually is found out. The profane parent lives to see
their child inflict upon his offspring the same abuse that was inflicted upon
Thank God I’m not God! It is uncomfortable, at times, not being
God. But I would do too much damage if I were given His powers. He has, though,
given me some powers; given them to you, too. We have the power to speak
against intolerance, hatred, deception, vulgarity. One voice against all those
who spew out verbal garbage seems futile. But if a million of us lift our voice,
it will be heard. And we have as much right to condemn violent speech as do those
who speak it.
It takes courage and integrity to speak against the loud
voices of ignorance, intolerance, greed, vulgarity, and deception. Courage
because you often stand alone. Integrity, because speaking up requires us to “give
up” cherished prejudices that tempt us to remain silent and take our share of
the rewards of ignorance, intolerance, greed, vulgarity, and deception.
There is such a thing as “buck fever.” It is characterized
by rapid heart-beat, shaking hands, and irrational actions. It seldom results
in the bagging of a buck.
The phenomenon describes the reaction, usually of a first
time game hunter, upon sighting the target animal; a deer in most cases. The
novice hunter, calm just moments before, suddenly is seized with panic at the
possibility of losing the opportunity to bag “the biggest buck the hunter has
ever seen.” The result, most often is a rapid emptying of the hunter’s clip and
the bagging of nothing. In a few cases the hunter gets an illegal doe or a “Bambi,”
or perhaps some farmer’s heifer or horse. In the most tragic cases he/she
shoots a hunting companion. Simply put, the hunter shoots without truly aiming.
This week the nation was witness to a case of “buck fever”
on the Presidential election circuit. Governor Mitt Romney thought he saw an
opportunity to bag an advantage over President Barak Obama and opened fire
prematurely. There had been a “gentleman’s agreement” between Romney and Obama that
the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center would not be
sullied with political attacks.
Things went well until about 6 p.m. when word began to
circulate about attacks on the U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya. Early in the
day, in Cairo, protesters were becoming very agitated over an incendiary film
produced in the U.S. that denigrated the prophet Mohammad. The U.S. embassy in
Cairo issued a statement declaring that the U.S. deplores actions and words
intended to denigrate the religion of others. It was an attempt to cool the atmosphere
before any attack was made on the embassy. The statement failed to quell the
riots and later in the day both the Egyptian and Libyan embassies were attacked
with the result that four Americans in Libya – including the U.S. Ambassador – were killed.
About 6:09 p.m. Governor Romney, thinking he saw a huge
opportunity to take a political shot at the president, released to the press a
condemnation of the statement by the Cairo embassy, claiming that it was an
apology, a desertion of an American’s right of free speech, and that the
President was responsible for the statement. The press was instructed to not
release the Romney’s criticism until mid-night (honoring – but only barely so –
the “gentleman’s agreement” against political attacks on September 11).
However, about 10:30 p.m. the governor apparently was overcome with “buck fever”
and, thinking an opportunity was slipping away, opened fire. The press release
was authorized to be publicized. Romney had emptied his “clip” in a frantic
attempt to gain a political advantage.
Subsequent reports have shown that the Governor not only
broke his pledge to not make political statements on 9/11; he also shot before
aiming. The facts that have come out show that his accusation that the embassy’s
statement was an apology, simply were not true. Further, his defense of the
freedom of speech for an American is beginning to look like a defense of a man
who cried “fire” in a crowded theater. Yes, freedom of speech is a cherished
part of our American tradition, but few will dare to defend irresponsible –
even deadly – use of that freedom. The Governor is on record as having
suggested that our government should not have condemned the inflammatory film
that cost the life of four Americans serving their country in a difficult and
If proof were still needed to show that Governor Romney is
ill-fitted for the task of Commander in Chief of the U.S. forces, and head of
U.S. diplomacy, we got that proof on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. The
last thing our nation needs in these trouble times is a leader afflicted with “buck
fever”; a man who shoots before knowing what he is shooting at.
Two thousand years ago a skeptic, faced with a man who said
to him, “I am come to bear witness to the truth,” asked, as he turned on his
heel to order the man’s crucifixion, “What is truth?”
In the last two weeks, during the political conventions of our
two major political parties, we’ve been promised, by candidates and their surrogates,
that they had come to bear witness to the truth. But the poor listener must be
feeling the same sense of frustration as Pilate felt when told by yet another “messiah”,
“I am come to bear witness to the
truth.” (Sadly, Pilate did not know that on that one occasion he was faced with
a true truth-teller.) It is a good thing, for the sake of the speakers at the
conventions, that we who are saying, “What is truth?” don’t have the power of
life and death over them. But we would sometimes like to turn on our heels,
when in the voting booth, and say, “None of the above.”
Voters in this election have a plethora of sources for
getting opinions about the truth of various statements made in the conventions
and elsewhere. The fact checkers don’t
always agree on the facts or the interpretation of the facts. They vary in
their tolerance for truth-stretching, and their categories of truth telling are
unique to their particular system of rating. But, they are, in my opinion, all
attempting to help the honest observer clarify the claims being made by
politicians, and by surveying a number of these sources one can come to their
own decision based on a clearer understanding of the underlying facts. Here are
a few of fact-checking organizations I’d recommend to anyone interested in
basing their opinions on more than emotion or blind loyalty to a party line:
Most news outlets also run articles that examine the truthfulness
of the politician’s claims. It is
inexcusable for anyone who has access to a computer, or even a smart phone, to
pass on “truth” they have not attempted to verify in some way other than taking
the word of the politician.
Many – too many – of the truth claims that come to us arrive,
via Internet or E-mail feeds. The vast majority of those are distortions or
outright lies. But it is possible in many cases to check on their veracity too.
Snopes.com is perhaps the best source of
information about myths and outlandish claims circulating on the Internet and
One way of determining the honesty of a fact-checking
organization is to observe the manner in which they document the sources of
their information. Do they reference sources you can go to in search of
verification or additional information? Do they provide interactive links such
as those above which allow the reader to easily go to the source of their information?
Do they always seem to come down on the same side of the political divide? (If
you find yourself going to a particular site because you know that you’ll find a position supported that favors your
political predilections, it is probably also an indication that the site is
biased in that direction.)
It is a fact that our fallen human nature (I realize that is a
theological statement but it reflects my understanding of the truth about
mankind) causes all of us to avoid what Al Gore termed, “Inconvenient Truth.”
It is our natural bent to seek out those who reinforce beliefs that the world
is truly what we want it to be. But
those who build their world on imagined truth, or emotionally generated truth,
or wished-for truth, or self-serving truth, do nothing to improve their
situation or our world in general.
The world is transformed by men and women who love truth
more than anything else. They are the ones who face the “inconvenient truths”
that hold back progress in law, or governance, or politics, or industry, or
education, or theology, or medicine, or ecology, or science, or any of a
thousand other areas of human endeavor. They find it more onerous to live with
a lie than with an uncomfortable truth and so, they embrace the truth.
We will never know if the “truth” we embrace is truly true.
Ultimately we live by faith – there is no other alternative. I’ve been fascinated
for years by a statement made by the Apostle Paul, the great original
theologian of the Christian faith. Some might take his words to be a dogmatic
statement of truth, but in fact they constitute, whether he thought of it in
that way or not, a great statement of faith. He said, “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded
that he is able to keep that which I’ve
committed unto him against that day.” (Emphasis is mine.)
In our search for truth, using all the tools at our
disposal, the most we can ultimately say is, “I know whom I have believed and I have good reason to believe that those
sources are reliable and will, in most cases, not let me down.”
So, what is truth? First and foremost it is beyond our
earthly powers to determine, precisely, and for all human time. But a
reasonable approximation of the truth (2+2=4 for example) can usually be
obtained by honest observation of reliable data. Any who deny themselves the chance to know that much of the truth deserves to live in the
fantasy world of delusion and disappointment to which such a choice ultimately
That is one of the contentious issue of our day. President
Obama recently attempted to argue that any successful endeavor is the result of
the labors of many people and many institutions, including the government. His
opponents in the election have seized upon one phrase in his remarks and
attempted to paint him as anti-entrepreneurial. But, despite their dishonest
interpretation of his remarks, they do, at least, give us a reason to ask the
question, “Who built this?”
In the late 1800s a movement had been afoot for several
years to have a day set aside to honor working people, but it had not gained
much ground because working people, though numerous in the millions, were
essentially without political power and easily ignored. Any attempt by workers
to organize and bargain collectively was crushed with the aid of government
troops and at the insistence of the Industrial Barons of the day. However, the
situation regarding the establishment of a “Labor Day” changed dramatically in
late 1894 and, almost miraculously, Labor Day was born.
But a little history is needed so I’ll provide a summary of
broadcast that I referenced before. You can read the entire piece in a few
minutes by following
George Pullman was an industrialist whose company, in the
late 1800s, built railroad sleeping cars that bore his name. A “Pullman” came
to be the name for any railroad car that provided sleeping births just as a
“Kleenex” has come to be, for many people, the name of any facial tissue.
Pullman was apparently a humane man by his lights, and
probably by the lights of many in his generation. Concerned about the
corruption of morals engendered in a big city environment, he built his own
company town, named for him, of course, just south of Chicago. In addition to
the facilities needed to produce his sleeper cars, the town provided housing
for his workers and their families, a company bank, a company store, etc. Pullman
set the worker’s wages – high enough to keep them working, but not enough to
tempt them into sinful opulence; that was reserved for Pullman and his fellow
industrial barons. He set the rent for
housing, set the prices in the company store, paid their wages from the company
bank, minus the cost of rent. It was a utopian existence. No doubt many of the
workers agreed . . . as long as it worked.
However, in 1893 the nation fell into one of its recurring
depressions and sales of railroad sleeper cars fell off. Pullman had to lay off
a large portion of his workers and those who remained had their wages cut . . .
but not their rent. As the workers situation became more and more desperate
they began to organize a union under the leadership of Eugene V. Debs,
demanding higher pay and lower rents. The result was inevitable. President
Cleveland, yielding to pressure from his wealthy supporters, declared the
strike a federal crime and sent in 12,000 federal troops to put it down. It was
the way things were done then and, as we discovered in Wisconsin last year, the
way things are still done when too much power is placed in the hands of one
side or the other. A couple of strikers died and Debs went to prison. So much
for that labor union. Anyone else want to try? The workers went back to their
jobs under Pullman’s rules and at his wages.
However, 1894 was an election year and Cleveland was locked
in a difficult contest for re-election. Though he was not willing to support
the Pullman workers in their hour of need he hoped to persuade them to help him
in his. He threw his support behind the establishment of a national Labor Day,
hoping to placate the disgruntled workers whose hopes his “army” had crushed a
few months earlier. A bill establishing a national Labor Day sailed quickly
through Congress with bi-partisan support and was signed into law shortly
before Election Day. It did not gain the labor vote for Cleveland – he lost the
election anyway – but Labor Day had become a reality.
This Pyrrhic victory for labor has given politicians, for a
hundred succeeding years, the opportunity to praise the efforts of the working
people of our nation; to tell them, “This Land Is Your Land. You built it with
So, who did build the Pullman empire? George Pullman
certainly had the vision that propelled it into existence. His money, and the
money of his stockholders, furnished the factory and tools needed to produce
the Pullman Sleepers. But what about the hundreds of workers whose 10 hour days
caused the cars to roll off the assembly line. Or does their labor not count
because they were paid for it? But so was Pullman and the stockholders. And
what about the citizens of the U.S. whose valuable public lands were give to
the railroads at little or no cost? Or what about the tax payers who footed the
bill for 12,000 federal soldiers to crush the workers strike and allow Pullman
to continue paying wages less than their cost of living? And what about those
workers who struggled, in the years after the strike, to live on such wages?
Pullman deserves to be remembered for the contribution his
idea made to comfortable rail travel. He is entitled to a fair return on his
investment and a fair wage for the leadership he gave to his company. But he
did not build the Pullman Company alone. Every worker in his factory, and every
holder of stock in his company, and every citizen of the United States had a
hand in the success of his enterprise.
But in the end, Pullman got the money, and the bragging
rights. Eugene V. Debs got prison time. A couple of strikers got “early
retirement.” The workers of America got Labor Day. This Labor Day 2012, at our
family gathering, three members had to work. They were busy “building”
businesses that others will take credit for building.
Wednesday, November 5th, 1952 was a bleak day in
the Rapp household in Clinton, Illinois. The ballots had been counted and the
Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, was the overwhelming victor in the Presidential
election, bringing to an end two decades of Democratic dominance under the
leadership of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
Eventually Dad would bring himself to vote for Richard Nixon
and later for Ronald Reagan, but in 1952, memories of the Great Depression and
World War II were too fresh to allow him to vote for anyone associated with the
party of Herbert Hoover. Roosevelt was bigger than life in our house, and
Truman’s gritty insistence that his way was the right way evoked admiration
among Democrats, unmatched until the recent love affair between conservative Americans
and their tough-talking, Reaganesque, Tea Party politicians.
Despite the sense of doom – the fear of a return to the hard
times of the late 1920s and 1930s – the Rapp kids all went off to school that day to face the
taunts of our mostly Republican classmates who knew well our political
loyalties and were glad to make us pay for them.
But little changed, then, or in the days and years to come.
The New Deal reforms enacted under Roosevelt and extended under Truman were
actually enlarged and extended under Eisenhower. They would continue to be
expanded under most succeeding Presidents, Democratic or Republican, despite
the perennial Republican campaign rhetoric promising to abolish them and return
to a laissez faire economy and a
bare-bones national Government. The American people, it seemed, liked a touch
of socialist sweetener in their capitalist tea, and even the Republicans liked
to be re-elected. Often Republican administrations out spent the Democrats,
running up larger deficits and expanding the size and reach of the Federal
Soon both parties were declaring themself against big
government and large deficits when campaigning as the “out” party, but were pro-government
and pro-spending when they were incumbents. A new form of bi-partisan agreement
had arisen; “what’s good when I’m in, is bad when you’re in, and what’s
reprehensible when you are in will, nonetheless, be allowable when I’m back in.”
The conclusion I’ve arrived at, observing these things over
the last sixty years, is that the nation is either not as bad off as the “outs”
would have us believe or, even if it is, the “outs” will not significantly
change its trajectory if and when they achieve power.
So trim your expectations folks. No saviors will be found in
Tampa or Charlotte this fall.
For all that they claim they can and will do – much of it
“on the very first day in office” – we must remember that these who speak to us
with golden tongues are mere men. More to the point, they are mere men hedged
in by a thousand restraints on their power, not the least being their own
short-sightedness and ignorance of the forces that work against any man or
woman accomplishing what they set out to do.
They are billiard balls aiming to rearrange the
configuration of their world; buffeting, and being buffeted by, those they hope
to displace; hoping to advance their career at the expense of another, bumped
out of the way by their success; influenced by the forces that brought them
into being AND by the environment in which they are confined; subject to all
the laws of political, social, and economic gravity. Don’t expect too much of
them. Especially, don’t expect them to be able to accomplish a tithe of what
they claim they have the power to do.
So what’s an ordinary citizen to do with all the rhetoric
and banners and press releases and celebrity endorsements? One choice is to
swallow, wholesale, the promises and claims of one side or the other. Another
is to reject it all and bury oneself in “reality” TV and Extreme Sports. A
third, and better way is to listen to both sides, fact check anything that
ordinary intelligence tells you is “over the top,” keep track of who is lying
most and most egregiously, pick the candidate whose lies are least onerous and
whom you believe is most likely to accomplish things you count as valuable, and
then cut your expectations by about eighty percent. Then go and vote in
If your side wins, just remember that your champion is only
a man of clay. If your side loses, remember that the man you feared, but now
must endure until the next election, is also only a man of clay. Too much
optimism, or too much despair ultimately leads to the same place because there
is, realistically, only one place to land; in the real world. And the real
world is, to a major degree, beyond the manipulation of mere men – blind and
largely impotent men – men, made of clay.
I’ve been looking all over the Internet to find one person
who was offended at Clint Eastwood’s pornographic remarks at the Republican
Convention on Thursday night. I’ve found a couple of sites that quoted those
two sections of Eastwood’s speech in which he suggested that the President was urging
him to either tell Mitt Romney to commit an (impossible) act of indecency with
himself or suggesting the Eastwood himself should do so. But I’ve found no one;
not even on the Christianity Today site, who called his remarks obscene and
offensive and unworthy of a party that portrays itself as a champion of family
First let me say that while I found Eastwood’s performance bizarre,
crude, and counter-productive to what the Republicans hoped to accomplish that
night, it would only have bemused me, if not for his use of perhaps the most
vulgar insult available, as a laugh line. If he had suggested that the
President should perform such an act upon himself, it would have been shocking
and degrading, but to put those words in the President’s mouth; to suggest that
the President is the kind of person who would use such gutter-talk is beyond
belief. Well, no longer is it beyond belief, but no one would have believed
they would hear it at the Family Values Convention . . . in prime time.
It appears that Mr. Eastwood somehow convinced someone in
the Republican hierarchy to let him speak at the convention. One story,
reported, is that Mr. Romney invited him to come after Eastwood delivered an
endorsement of Romney at another event. Somehow Eastwood got the honor of “opening”
for the Candidate in an unscripted, five to eight minute speech, which he
stretched to nearly twelve minutes. So, presumably all responsibility for
Eastwood’s words lie solidly on his conscience, where they apparently hardly
register at all. No blame to the Republicans or Mr. Romney for the excrement left
by Eastwood on the convention platform.
It is ironic that they moved the podium forward eight feet
after Eastwood’s performance. That was pre-planned, of course, but also
fortunate. Otherwise Romney would have had to wear barn boots.
I don’t normally think of myself as particularly prudish. I’ve
worked in the real world and heard my share of obscenities and learned to “turn
them off” when they seem to be merely “boys being boys.” But in even the most
foul situation I’ve been in, the appearance of a “lady” – especially if she
happened to be the boss’ wife – resulted in the termination of the expletives
and obscenities until she left. Obviously I have not encountered the world of
Clint Eastwood. Fool that I am, I assumed the language used in his films was “scripted”
and that in his private, “unscripted” speech, he would show as much discretion
as an ordinary longshoreman. (Apologies to all longshoremen.)
Apparently not. In a hall filled with the nation’s most
righteous, most patriotic, most Christian citizens; in a hall in which a
possible future First Lady – the boss’ wife – and her children and
grandchildren sat together, Eastwood displayed his ignorance and insensitivity.
It was enough to turn one’s stomach.
But did it? Not if the cameras can be believed. Those
deacons, and Sunday School teachers, and leaders of family values organizations
were on their feet, stomping, waving, shouting, and laughing. Surely they didn’t
hear what was being said. No doubt some didn’t. But all of them could read it
an hour after the convention was over and, though a few expressed regret at
Eastwood’s speech, it was almost universally because it detracted from Mr.
Romney’s big moment, not because anything Eastwood said violated their sense of
decency. No hint that their sense of values prohibited the maligning of a
decent man who happens to be the President of the United States.
I think the last words officially spoken at the convention
were those of Mr. Romney. They were, “May God bless you! May god bless the American people, and may God bless the
United States of America!”
Oh yes, God.
Please do. But first . . . could you wash our mouths with soap?
Paul Ryan, in his acceptance
speech as the vice-presidential nominee of the Republican Party chose to play
the “religion card.” Speaking of his and Mr. Romney’s faith, he said:
Mitt and I also go to different churches, but in any church, the best kind
of preaching is done by example, and I've been watching that example.
He went on to
Our faiths come together in the same moral creed. We believe that in every
life, there is goodness, for every person there is hope. Each one of us was made
for a reason, bearing the image and likeness of the lord of life.
reveal either a very shallow understanding of the two men’s faith communities
or an attempt to meld, for political purposes, two faith communities that hold
radically different creedal understandings. I suspect the statement is a blend
of both; ignorance on the part of Ryan about his Catholic and Romney’s Mormon heritage,
and a desire to placate a segment of the Republican Party that would like to be
assured that they are not deserting their fundamentalist “creeds” by supporting
those whom their forefathers labeled “Anti-Christ” in the case of the Roman
Catholic Church, and “cultic” in the case of the Mormon Church.
I want to say
very clearly that I do not believe either man’s religious affiliation
disqualifies him to be President of the United States. Article VI of the U. S.
Constitution declares, “. . . no religious Test shall ever be required as a
Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” So, until
we see fit to amend our Constitution in a way that reserves the right to hold
public office to people of certain faiths, it is the right of any natural born
citizen, thirty-five years of age or older, who has resided in the U.S. for 14
years to run for the office of President.
Many of the
people to whom I entrust my welfare – indeed my life – are people whose faith
traditions are different than mine; doctors, nurses, policemen, mechanics, food
servers, airline pilots . . . the list could go on and on. I feel no compulsion
to assure myself that all those who hold in their hands the power to preserve
my life or destroy it are Christians with the same “creedal understanding” that
I have. I could wish that all people were followers of Jesus Christ, and
worshipers of Yahweh God, but since that is not the case, and since it would
create world-wide havoc to attempt to make it the case by any means other than
persuasion, I accept the fact that there are millions of people whose faith differs
from mine, but who, nonetheless, can look on me with kindness and work for my wellbeing.
Why is it, then,
that so many feel they must, as Mr. Ryan attempted to do, show that, in matters
of faith we are all pretty much alike? Is he also willing to say that Mr.
Obama, though of a different political party, has essentially the same concern
for the wellbeing of our nation? Indeed, is he willing (or are those fundamentalists
who insist that all presidential candidates for their party be transformed into
“born again evangelicals” willing) to declare that his and Mr. Obama’s faiths “come
together in the same moral creed?”
Few of our founders would qualify for membership in a modern
Christian fundamentalist church. Many of them were openly skeptical of key
Christian doctrines held dear by “Bible believing Christians” of our day.
Still, they served their nation admirably for the most part. They understood
that religious divisions posed a great danger to the tranquility – perhaps even
the success – of our nation. And so they insisted that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a
Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” They had
faith that the American people, given the opportunity to assess the worth of a
candidate, would see in him or her, the moral character – or lack of it –
required to be a good leader. That moral character might come from a particular
religious upbringing or belief system, or it might spring from an agnostic or
even an atheistic background. In neither case should the source of one’s
beliefs qualify or disqualify them for public office; only the beliefs themselves.
Mr. Ryan is
wrong. His and Mr. Romney’s faiths do not “come together in the same moral
creed.” Any theologian of either of their churches will tell you that. I would
be at a loss to find any of the creedal
statements of the Christian Church that echo Mr. Ryan’s characterization of his
and Mr. Romney’s common creed:
. . . that in every life, there is goodness, for every person there is
hope. Each one of us was made for a reason, bearing the image and likeness of
the lord of life.
Further, as far as I can determine, the Mormon church is, like many evangelical and fundamentalist bodies, a
non-creedal church. One Mormon contributor to the Millennial
Star , a Mormon website expressed the Mormon position on creedal beliefs as
So, philosophy is not necessarily bad.
Doing theology isn’t necessarily bad. Creating creeds and dogmas IS bad, as it nails the coffin shut on receiving any
new light. (My emphasis.)
So what is my point? Simply this. We live in a religiously
diverse culture and nation. If we insist on blending our religious creeds and
belief systems – declaring them to be no different in essentials from each
other – for purposes as paltry as attracting votes to one candidate or another,
we are “casting our pearls before swine,” selling our “pearl of great price”
for a mere four (or eight) years of political power. No religion that takes
itself seriously would do that. It would be an admission that they have no
purpose in the world, that their “faith” is not a faith at all, but merely a
convenient gathering point for people of no particular faith.
Let us elect our leaders on the basis of their integrity and ideas
regardless of their religious affiliations. And let us continue to follow the
dictates of our hearts, unalloyed and uncorrupted by political aspirations,
honoring every man’s right to believe as he wishes until the sorting of creeds
and doctrines is accomplished by the God whom we profess to serve.