Category Archives: politics

Political Heroes


Written in 1992, resonant today:

“[B]y the end of the eighteenth century a whole new type of public figure had to be invented: individuals who could—as Mussolini would have it—make the trains run on time. Napoleon was the first and is still the definitive model. These Heroes promised to deliver the rational state, but to do so in a populist manner. The road from Napoleon to Hitler is direct. Indeed, most contemporary politicians still base their personas on this Heroic model.”

— John Ralston Saul, in his book Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, in a chapter entitled “The Theology of Power”

‘I Grew up in The Westboro Baptist Church. Here’s Why I Left’


Megan Phelps-Roper grew up in the Phelps family of Westboro Baptist Church, which is notorious for its obnoxious, degrading, and genuinely hateful protests. In this video, Phelps-Roper talks about the people who changed her mind — and the surprising way they changed it.

Phelps-Roper said her change of heart came, in part, through people on Twitter who showed her “the power of engaging the other.” It’s a fascinating story about developing relationships and asking questions rather than fighting.

Aside

These days politics requires incessant posturing to such a level of precision that no one can assume an opponent has said anything remotely correct about any detail of policy. Only barbed messages of radical certainty, please.

T.S. Eliot’s Take on The Church and The World


Candidates from both major U.S. political parties have been visiting churches, which seems to make this excerpt from an old T.S. Eliot book quite timely:

“That there is an antithesis between the Church and the World is a belief we derive from the highest authority. We know also from our reading of history, that a certain tension between Church and State is desirable. When Church and State fall out completely, it is ill with the commonwealth; and when Church and State get on too well together, there is something wrong with the Church. But the distinction between the Church and the World is not so easy to draw as that between Church and State. Here we mean not any one communion or ecclesiastical organisation but the whole number of Christians as Christians; and we mean not any particular State, but the whole of society, the world over, in its secular aspect. The antithesis is not simply between two opposed groups of individuals: every individual is himself a field in which the forces of the Church and the world struggle.”

The quotation comes from a broadcast talk delivered in February 1937, then printed in “The Listener,” and later added as an appendix to Eliot’s “The Idea of a Christian Society,” published in his book Christianity and Culture.

 

Here’s an Angle on the Continuing ‘Crisis of Authority’


The article was posted on Feb. 7, 2015, on Salon.com, and it is entitled “Anti-vaxxers are not the enemy: Science, politics, and the crisis of authority,” which you can read in its entirety.

But, for a quicker read, here’s a highlight:

“Most people making the decision not to vaccinate are mothers who are being demonized for a confusion and mistrust that is in fact widely shared, if in less dramatic form.

“For better or worse, at least climate denial and the vaccine debate are in the forefront of public discourse. Numerous forms of authority still lie concealed, or are carefully protected. I don’t know how to evaluate a former German newspaper editor’s recent claim that for years he published stories supplied to him by the CIA, because the story has been entirely ignored by the American media. Then there’s the new government in Greece, the first one in Europe to directly challenge the fiscal austerity regime imposed by global financial institutions. That’s a story of political and economic confrontation that could reshape the history of our century. It has been covered, all right — in a defensive and patronizing tone transparently designed to reassure readers that the neoliberal order often called the ‘Washington consensus’ is not in danger, and that the silly radicals in Athens will have to grow up and take their medicine like everybody else.

“Critical thinking about the nature of authority might induce us to wonder why those stories are invisible, or spun as dry policy questions for readers of the business pages, while so much bandwidth is occupied with making fun of a few vaccine loons. It might cause us to notice that treating people who feel genuine uncertainty about mainstream medicine as if they were low-achieving children only makes the problem worse, and that it’s absurd to assert that questioning the Catholic Church or the National Football League is good, but questioning the name-brand institutions of the scientific world is bad.

“Science considered as a method and a process is likely, over the long haul and after a lot of trial and error, to provide us with good answers. Science expressed as a social and historical institution – as a source of authority, in other words — is another matter entirely, and a far more complicated story than we can tell here. It has extended life and cured disease and improved agriculture, and it has brought us eugenics and the Tuskegee experiments and Hiroshima and Zyklon-B and a whole host of amazing pesticides and herbicides and preservatives and plastics that have permeated every square millimeter of the planet’s surface and the bodies of all its creatures, and whose long-term effects are not known but don’t look that great.”

From “Anti-vaxxers are not the enemy,” by Andrew O’Hehir

Draw from that and infer what you will.

Aside

Zealous leader, the more you try to save us from ourselves, the more we need to be saved from you.

Living And Loving With Difference And Disagreement


From The Washington Post:

It was so Washington, the way they met. She was on the dais at a panel discussion on media and politics, holding forth knowledgeably; he was in the audience, smitten. At the steakhouse dinner that followed, Jake Brewer got the courage to walk up to Mary Katharine Ham and give her the hopeful, ambiguous let’s get a drink sometime line.

Then he e-mailed her an invitation to a tech policy luncheon. She never replied.

Soon after, he was sitting at El Tamarindo in Adams Morgan with a friend, and she was beelining for their table. She greeted the mutual friend at his table — and only then turned to him with a friendly stare of non-recognition.

“Hi,” she told Jake. “I’m Mary Katharine Ham.”

It was all so very Washington, for a couple who would become anything but: a conservative pundit married to an Obama White House staffer.

When Jake died Sept. 19 — after he collided with a car during a cancer charity bike ride in Mount Airy, Md. — the 34-year-old technology advocate was mourned on both MSNBC and Fox. His boss, President Obama, released a statement: Jake was proof, he said, that this generation is “capable of making a difference.”

Read the rest of this heartbreaking yet inspiring story.