Friday, July 30, 2010

TGIF Tunes

It's a Lifehouse kind of day. Here they are with "All In."

Let's Talk Strasburg

We can all blame this need to talk baseball on Marc Johnson of the Johnson Post. He was at Nationals Park this week to catch Stephen Strasburg, who was scratched from the lineup less than an hour before the Nats took the field with the division-leading Braves in town, and his post sparked my own baseball musings. (Note to Marc: Consensus is the Braves didn't actually show up to play. In the event you were wondering if they're really not as good as the hype...)

As I mentioned in my Cooperstown post Sunday, I had been reading Paul Dickson's Hidden Language of Baseball and since have picked up a book I've had on my radar for several years and never had time to read--Hardball on the Hill by James Roberts. Now, it was published prior to the Expos move to Washington and does a decent job at making the case for returning a major league team to the capital, but what it doesn't do because of the publication date is make the case for returning top tier players to the Nats and therefore to the nation's capital. Johnson's piece today does a nice job of illustrating what top tier players on the Nationals' roster is for the nation's capital.

Since the Expos moved to D.C., they have not been a contender in their division, the National League East. More than anything they have played spoiler to the hopes of the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and New York Mets. Until this season, the highest-profile players to suit up for the Nationals have been Adam Dunn, Miguel Batista, Vinny Castilla, José Guillén, and Liván Hernández. Add Pudge Rodriguez to the list this season and now rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg. Assuming they can sign him, another first round draft pick out of Las Vegas, Bryce Harper, may turn out to be one of the highest-profile Nats as well. Harper could turn out to be the best hitter in franchise history as well. Sure the recent incarnation of the D.C. franchise may only be five years old, but even among other young franchises (think Tampa Bay Rays, Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins, and Arizona Diamondbacks) they have failed to prove comparable to other National League teams.

The reason I mention Strasburg is because the Washington Post is treating his recent move to the 15-day disabled list apocalyptically. The same shoulder inflammation that required Batista to step in for Strasburg has landed him on the disabled list and has all but smashed the hopes of Nationals fans. Nats fans, unlike Cubs fans, don't have too much patience for all the losing their doing. In fact, Nats fans were insulted by the lack of trades the franchise had been participating in prior to the Adam Dunn deal. And now, to add insult to injury, the Nats are shopping Adam Dunn around to teams looking to add a bat before tomorrow's trade deadline.

What does a first round draft pick mean to Washington? For the Nationals it may mean building a young team around last year's Strasburg and this year's Harper. For the nation's capital it means real, competitive baseball in coming years. Despite the nation's capital having a great tradition of baseball dating back to the days of Walter Johnson, the recent incarnation of baseball inside the beltway is lacking pizazz. That's all changing with Strasburg in town--the President of the United States went out to Nationals Park to see the kid pitch, on any given night a who's who of all things politic may show up at the park, and stadiums across the country are selling out when the Nats are in town and there is even a slight possibility that Strasburg might take the mound.

Sure, he's a hurler who rivals the likes of Sandy Koufax. Sure, he's young and incredibly talented with a great, and hopefully long tenure in the game to come. But what Strasburg is for the game and the team is even more important than just what he does when he takes the mound--which is a whole lot, don't get me wrong. Strasburg is the new, young face of a team that has needed someone other than just third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to step up. Strasburg has brought excitement back into a game that has too easily lost the excitement when an entire roster of millionaires and businessmen pulling the strings can buy a world championship. Strasburg is the face of this year's rookie class, he's the face of the franchise and most importantly he will be the face of Major League Baseball in the post-steroid era.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Americans with Disabilities Act

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unfortunately, I didn't get a post up to commemorate this historic anniversary, so I wanted to make sure the following links were available for those of you interested:
Please also take a moment to visit the American Association for Peoples with Disabilities website to sign the ADA Anniversary pledge.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Induction Day In the Post-Steroid Era

In Paul Dickson's Hidden Language of Baseball, Ban Johnson is noted for his 1912 complaint that games were running too long. The American League president said that too many games in the 1912 season were lasting longer than two hours. Two hours. Dickson's book couldn't possibly have anticipated that in the 2010 season, umpire Joe West would complain, nearly a century after Ban Johnson's complaint, that games between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were "embarrassing and pathetic" in their length. How long on average are games between the American League East rivals? Over three hours.

Something I have always enjoyed about our national pastime is how deeply-rooted the traditions are and how unchanging the game tends to be. There are 162 games per regular season, an all star game, and a post-season, yet every season there are still things happening that have never happened before in the more than century-old profession. The game might get longer, technology might revitalize the game, and Yogi Berra may get older and seemingly shorter, but the fundamentals remain the same.

Today in the small town of Cooperstown, New York, a pantheon of former players convene for an induction ceremony for the newest members of Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. Today Whitey Herzog, Andre Dawson and Doug Harvey will join the Hall. In addition to the former manager, player and umpire (respectively), ESPN's Jon Miller receives the Ford C. Frick Award for his time as the "Voice of the Giants" and a music legend is recognized for his contribution to the game--a well-known in baseball stadiums song called "Centerfield."

This year only one player is being inducted and that player is the great Andre Dawson. In his 9th year on the ballot, Dawson was voted into the Hall beating out Burt Blyleven by 40 votes. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about this year's balloting:
"The newly-eligible candidates included 11 All-Stars, who were selected a combined total of 51 times – a notable decrease from 2009, when 22 All-Stars became eligible. Among the first-ballot candidates were 12-time All-Stars Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin, 7-time All-Star Edgar Martínez, and 5-time All-Stars Andrés Galarraga and Fred McGriff. With respect to major end-of-season awards, the new field contained one Cy Young Award winner (Pat Hentgen), one MVP (Larkin) and one Rookie of the Year (Eric Karros)."
Andre Dawson was in 3rd in the 2009 voting (behind inductees Jim Rice and Ricky Henderson in his 1st year of eligibility), 3rd in 2008 (behind Rice again and that year's inductee Goose Gossage), 5th in 2007, 4th in 2006, and 6th in 2005.

Perhaps what is most interesting about this year's induction ceremony is what has been said prior to it. Dawson has been on record as saying the balloting is going to become much more complicated for the baseball writers who vote because of the steroid era. Since 2007 when he was first eligible for induction, Mark McGwire has never finished higher than 9th. If the cloud of steroids ever lifts from McGwire, something I highly doubt will ever happen, his chances of being inducted into the Hall may come down to his final and 15th year of eligibility just as Jim Rice's induction did (though Rice was never under a cloud of suspicion). To quote Dawson on the steroid era:
"The writers have their work cut out for them to see which direction they're going to go with this. It's definitely been damaging to the history of the game...Whether those players are Hall of Fame-worthy, that remains to be seen. But if my mind doesn't escape me, integrity is still a big part of the game."
Dawson's comments, I believe, speak to why Dawson is the newest member of the Hall--integrity. He may have played in Boston for two seasons, but Dawson spent the bulk of his career playing in small markets. He was in Chicago before I was first introduced to his style of play and I caught quite a few of his games on WGN. A former Rookie of the Year, 8-time Gold Glove winner, 8-time All Star, and 1987 National League MVP, Dawson's 21 seasons were stellar. Had he been playing in bigger markets his entire career, he may have been a 1st-ballot inductee.

With 438 home runs and 1591 RBIs in his career, Dawson was something special on the field. Dawson's last season in the game, 1996, was the first season of another former Expo who is still in the game today--Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero is having some kind of comeback season, but sitting at 427 home runs and 1394 RBIs in his 15-season career, Vlad my finish with more home runs than Dawson, but his RBIs, doubles (435 currently to Dawson's career 503), 9 all star selections, and MVP award stack up nicely. Had Dawson spent more time in the American League with the designated hitter slot, as Vlad has, he may have finished with a higher batting average and ended up in the 500 home run club.

Guys like Andre Dawson belong in the Hall of Fame and it is refreshing for those of us who came of age during the steroid era to see good and decent players like Dawson enter the Hall of Fame without even a hint of suspicion.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Smorgasbord Saturday

Here's a rundown of some things happening in the world of baseball, politics and current events that I've read and liked or simply had my eye on this week. Enjoy!

Politics/Current Events
The shame of right-wing "journalism"/, Joan Walsh
Obama, Crypto-Lefty?/The Nation, Chris Hayes
Nampa Democratic candidate calls for creation of state-owned bank/Idaho Statesman
An Earlier "Tea Party"/The Johnson Post

The Jefferson Bottles/New Yorker
The Testimony of Julian P. Steunenberg/Idaho Meanderings

Why There Is a Lack of Parity in Baseball/Bleacher Report
Joe Torre is Not an Un-Person/Baseball Nerd, Keith Olbermann

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fiscal "Responsibility" & Fake Democrats

There must be other progressive bloggers who receive email from organizations like Open Left and find themselves 100% on the same page as those that the email was intended for. As the following snippet suggests, there are plenty of us who are indeed "sick of conservative, milquetoast Democrats" who should be ashamed to call themselves Democrats:

It seems that there are a dozen or so members of Congress, Democrats from fairly conservative districts, who would rather join the party of obstruction and stonewalling than vote as actual Democrats who care about those among us who need the most help. Case in point: 10 Democrats, including Idaho's own Walt Minnick, voted once more against continuing to grant unemployment benefits. While those 10 "Democrats" continued to prove just how low they will sink in their attempt to get re-elected on the bogus back of financial responsibility memes, when it came time to vote even some Republicans realized that the American people need help and voted their conscience rather than what was being yelled at them by Tea Party activists.

For whatever reason, actions aren't currently speaking louder than words in American politics. Blame this on the recession, the Tea Party or whatever you want, but the truth of the matter is, what should matter doesn't right now and it is beyond depressing. Shouldn't it speak very loudly that John Boehner, the leader of the minority party in the House is leading the charge against unemployment benefits while his own brother is unemployed? Actions can't speak louder than words in an environment that is riddled daily with screams from birthers, Birchers and actual members of congress calling for people to vote out the Democrats and those who keep spending the people's money or we'll be forced to secede from the Union. Depressing doesn't even begin to describe it; it is absolutely cruel.

While the GOP and the GOP-Lite (i.e. the 10 Democrats in the House, including Minnick) rant about the deficit and financial responsibility while Americans are suffering and barely hanging on, this is what the White House Office of Media Affairs had to say today about what was accomplished this week, including passage of the extension of unemployment benefits:


Office of Media Affairs


July 23, 2010

New Law Extends Unemployment Benefits, Critical for Idaho

One of Three Steps This Week to Rebuild Economic Foundation

WASHINGTON – President Obama has signed legislation extending critical unemployment insurance to 2.5 million Americans – including an estimated 14,200 people in Idaho – who are looking for a job but have not been able to find work before their benefits were exhausted.

The extension of unemployment benefits was one of three important actions this week to help repair the damage to the nation’s economy from this recession, and rebuild it on a stronger foundation. Other key actions:

Wall Street Reform becomes law. This legislation contains the toughest financial reforms since the ones created in the aftermath of the Great Depression. It will bring greater accountability to Wall Street, and provide greater security to families and small businesses on Main Street. The financial industry is central to our nation’s ability to grow, prosper, compete, and innovate. This law will help to foster that innovation, not hamper it. These reforms will put in place the strongest consumer protections in history, which will be enforced by an independent agency whose sole job is to establish rules of the road and enforce these protections to look out for the American consumer. Because of financial reform, the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes. There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts -- period. If a large financial institution should ever fail, we will have the tools to wind it down without endangering the broader economy. And there will be new rules to prevent financial institutions from becoming “too big to fail” in the first place, so that we don’t have another AIG.

Government inefficiencies are a prime target. President Obama came into office determined to change the way Washington works for the American people. That means working to build a government that is more open, more transparent, and more responsive to the needs of its people; and that is focused on getting rid of the waste and inefficiencies that squander the hard-earned money of American taxpayers. One of the core responsibilities of government is to steward the tax dollars of the American people wisely and well. And yet each year, the federal government makes billions of dollars in improper payments to individuals, organizations, and contractors. That’s why the President signed into law this week the Improper Payment Elimination and Recovery Act, an important step toward realizing the President’s new goal of reducing improper payments by $50 billion between now and 2012. This bipartisan legislation requires every federal agency to conduct annual assessments to determine which of their programs are at risk of making improper payments; and to audit more of their programs and recapture more taxpayer dollars. And there are now rigorous enforcement mechanisms to hold agencies accountable for how much money they save.

It has been a big week in Washington and one that will hopefully prove to help the economy, but to hear the GOP and anti-Democratic ideals Democrats tell it, the world may be coming to an end tomorrow. What is behind the unemployment benefits hold-up? Here is what the White House Office of Media Affairs had to say about it:

Since the first week of June, Senate Republicans [as well as House Republicans and a dozen Democrats in the House including Minnick] had stonewalled the extension of unemployment benefits to 2.5 million Americans, including an estimated 14,200 people in Idaho. The Senate was able to overcome these parliamentary maneuvers in order to provide much-needed support to middle-class families.

Extending unemployment benefits expands local purchasing power. Economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s put the economic multiplier of extending a dollar of unemployment benefits at 1.6, meaning that, for every dollar spent on unemployment compensation, $1.60 is added to our economy’s output. Similarly, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office places the multiplier in a range between 0.8 and 2.1.

Independent assessments from the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Duke University/CFO Magazine survey have cited sales concerns and weak product demand as the largest concerns voiced by small businesses and corporate financial officers. The Duke survey found that 36.4 percent of the CFOs believed that weak consumer demand was the top macro concern for their corporation – more than 18 percentage points higher than any other listed concern.
To reiterate an important point in that paragraph, Moody's believes that for every dollar of unemployment benefits we extend to struggling Americans, $1.60 is added to the economy's output. Moody's estimate is a conservative one. If the GOP really wants to talk about fiscal responsibility and the actual growing deficit, this isn't money being thrown blindly at a problem (or a war...or two), this is money that is strengthening the economy and keeping Americans afloat. Isn't looking out for your fellow human beings and taking care of one another the dictionary definition of responsibility?

Friday, July 16, 2010

TGIF Tunes

Here's Darius Rucker (I still can't seem to get past calling him 'Hootie') with his new single "Come Back Song" released on iTunes this past Tuesday.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Year of the Pitcher

First and foremost, it's about damn time! No, it isn't about time for a year of phenomenal pitching, though I suppose pitchers are due, but it is about damn time the National League won the midsummer classic. Yes, after a drought going back to 1996 when a National League catcher by the name of Mike Piazza (maybe you've heard of him, he was selected to 12 All-Star Games and holds the record for most home runs by a catcher in Major League Baseball history) won the All Star Game MVP award, the American League all stars had made the midsummer classic their personal batting practice. Until now. Who knows, maybe the 3-run double Atlanta's Brian McCann hit to put the National League on top will give his Atlanta Braves the World Series home field advantage. Wishful thinking? Perhaps.

Now, the 2010 All Star Game isn't the purpose of this post, but makes a clever introduction to a topic I have been wanting to discuss for some time--the year of the pitcher. In last night's midsummer classic it was obvious from the beginning that the game was going to come down to pitching, not defense and certainly not offense. The National League sent their flame thrower to the mound; a pitcher who has a 15-1 record before the all star break, a no-hitter this season, and a 99 mph fastball. And the American League sent a young pitcher named David Price to the mound with his 12-4 record barely skimming the surface of his talent. The pitching staff for the National League included a guy who threw a perfect game this season, Cy Young award winners, and a 40 year-old relief pitcher and first time all star who has been one of the brightest stars in baseball this season.

It isn't really a surprise that last night's game came down to pitching given the general dominance of pitching this season. Since the baseball season began in April we have seen Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay throw perfect games, Ubaldo Jimenez and Edwin Jackson toss no-hitters, and Detroit's Armando Galarraga suffer a near perfect game broken up by a blown call by the first base umpire. In addition to the games that went into the history books, there have been numerous games go into the late innings as no-hitters or one-hitters and plenty of games that have been 1-0 finals or low scoring games. A few of the teams currently sitting in first place in their divisions are there largely because of pitching--teams like the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, and Tampa Bay Rays. Teams that have been incredibly good with a balance of pitching and hitting are adding or expected to add pitchers up until the end-of-the-month trade deadline--teams like the Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds.

On any given day in the National League West, an ace might take the mound and be that game's determining factor. Ubaldo Jimenez, Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren, Hong-Chih Kuo, Jon Garland, Clayton Richard, Jonathon Broxton, Edwin Jackson, Heath Bell, and Brian Wilson.

Maybe the emergence of solid, shutout pitching is the signal of the end of the steroid era in baseball. Monday night's State Farm Home Run Derby featured hitters that on first glance wouldn't strike someone as power hitters. Like Dave Winfield said prior to the derby about a small, young outfielder from Arizona, "too light to fight, too thin to win." The lone holdout in the 90's mold of what a power hitter should look like was David Ortiz, the actual winner of the derby.

With quality pitching on the rise and teams really focusing on shutting down hitting and preventing runs, the biggest news this coming off-season, other than whether or not the St. Louis Cardinals re-sign the best player in the game Albert Pujols, may turn out to be the price for free agent pitchers.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Smorgasbord Saturday

Without meaning to treat this smorgasbord as a "taking out the trash" day, since March when I took a break from blogging I've been compiling a great deal of links and whatnot in my inbox that need to clear out. Here's some interesting reads that are worthy of both mentioning and actually taking the time to read:

Cox, Like Baseball, Evolved Yet Unchanged/Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Baseball is Sport's Comfort Food/Fox Sports

Clarence Darrow - His Life, Legal Career and Legacy/Idaho Meanderings
Star Spangled Story/NYT Book Review

National Politics
Robert Byrd: KKK Says Late Senator 'Wasn't A Klansman Long Enough To Get His Sheet Broke In'/Huffington Post
Miranda Rights May Be Changed to Fight Terrorism/WaPo
Census Takers Didn't Count on the Anger/WaPo
Arlington Graves Sat Unmarked/WaPo
Kill the 17th Amendment!/The Atlantic
Rand Paul on NPR: Disabilities Act Goes Too Far/TPMDC
Desertion in the Desert/The Hill

Idaho Politics
Room for a Borah?/The Johnson Post
Welcome to the Tea Party Comrade Minnick/City Desk, BW
Idaho's Gutzon Borglum, and his not-so-secret KKK connection/Kevin Richert
The Martyr of Idaho/Idaho Meanderings
Mad Humans/Bill Cope, BW

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Our Good & Faithful Servant

Editor's Note: It has been a week since Senator Byrd passed away and in that week I have struggled to find the words to express my sincere adoration for the longest serving member of the United States Senate. My apologies for the delay.

It had been fifty years since a member of the United States Senate last lay in repose in the Senate chamber.

In 1959, Senator Robert C. Byrd's first full year in the U.S. Senate, a senator by the name of William Langer of North Dakota was allowed to lay in repose in the Senate chamber following his November death. Perhaps Senator Byrd, who passed away last Monday at the age of ninety-two, and Senator Langer had more in common than simply the status afforded them in death. Though not entirely of his own making, "Wild Bill" Langer survived a political scandal that would derail most political careers. Fraud and corruption charges were met with a rather colorful response. Langer was removed from the Governor's mansion, re-elected to the Governor's mansion and then went on to serve in the United States Senate. Like Langer, Byrd overcame an early indiscretion that would forever haunt his political ambition, career and conscience--his membership in and association with the Ku Klux Klan.

At Senator Byrd's memorial service on Friday, Byrd's past was not ignored. Briefly mentioned by former President Clinton, an irony in itself, by the simple statement that "there are no perfect people; there are certainly no perfect politicians." Byrd's history as a former member of the KKK has been mentioned by pundits on every side of the political spectrum. Pundits and politicians alike have not let Byrd's flirtation with the KKK go unmentioned. However, while some pundits like Glenn Beck feel it in some way demeans Byrd in death by mentioning his own personal history, make no mistake that Byrd had come to terms with his own "youthful mistakes" as he once referred to them:
"I have lived with the weight of my own youthful mistakes my whole life, like a millstone around my neck, and I accept that those mistakes will forever be mentioned when people talk about me. I believe I have learned from those mistakes... The people will never trust you if you can't honestly admit your own mistakes." (Letter to a New President, 2004)
What is unfortunate is that a man like Glenn Beck, with his own youthful demons and mistake-laden past, cannot appreciate the absolute change of heart that took place with Robert Byrd. What is unfortunate is that everyone could not have approached Byrd's past the way the late Senator Ted Kennedy did. In her moving tribute at Friday's memorial on behalf of her late husband, Vicki Kennedy said, "his friend Ted Kennedy had no patience for those who focused on the distant past."

Byrd's political career was riddled with votes that would later be atoned for. His vote against welfare recipients in the District of Columbia would be answered by numerous votes in support of the country's poorest citizens. Byrd's early votes against civil rights, including a filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, would be atoned for decades later with votes in favor of all forms of civil rights and for the establishment of the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday. Additionally, Byrd's votes against many of President Johnson's domestic programs known as Johnson's "Great Society" were atoned for as recently as this past Christmas when he entered the Senate chamber in his wheelchair to cast what many have called the decisive vote for health insurance reform. The story of Robert C. Byrd was one of redemption.

While Senator Robert C. Byrd's memorial service Friday looked like a proverbial who's who of the Democratic Party, today a small service took place at Arlington, Virginia's Memorial Baptist Church. Away from the cameras and the crowd that often accompanies the political heavyweights that attended Friday's celebration, Byrd was laid to rest in Arlington County, Virginia beside his beloved wife Erma following today's service.

For just over one-fifth of the time the United States Senate has been in existence, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia served in it. As Marc Johnson of the Johnson Post recently noted, Byrd's service saw "Korea, McCarthy, the Cold War, Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Vietnam, civil rights, Nixon, Watergate, the rise of China, the end of the Soviet Union, radical Islam, Iraq and Afghanistan." Robert Byrd outlasted even Fidel Castro in public office.

I've often been asked what drew me to Senator Byrd, why I developed a particular affection for him. Perhaps the answer to this question is the very thing that has made this post so many days in the making. My affection for Senator Byrd began when I was a senior in high school. While this nation was preparing to invade Iraq, an unprovoked attack, I was preparing to graduate from high school. I, like many Americans, was not oblivious to the fact that another war, the second we had begun as a nation while I was in high school, would inevitably cost this nation a great price--the lives of young Americans. While this nation geared up for the invasion, the only voice of opposition I heard was that of Robert C. Byrd. To this day, I can remember hearing for the first time his speech "We Stand Passively Mute," challenging the logic (or lack thereof) behind the invasion. Not only was Senator Byrd against the war, he reminded his colleagues of his support for the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and how horribly wrong the Vietnam War went as time went on. His voice of reason was solidified by his knowledge of history. His opposition to the war continued as lives were lost and my generation suffered the consequences of an ill-timed and ill-conceived war.
"On what is possibly the eve of horrific infliction of death and destruction on the population of the nation of Iraq -- a population, I might add, of which over 50% is under age 15 -- this chamber is silent. On what is possibly only days before we send thousands of our own citizens to face unimagined horrors of chemical and biological warfare -- this chamber is silent...We are truly "sleepwalking through history." In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings."
Unfortunately, we were in for the "rudest of awakenings" and we still face the consequences of those actions.

I've often spoke of Byrd's devotion to the United States Constitution with nothing but the utmost respect. I've carried a copy of the Constitution around with me due to Byrd's example and I have been faithful to that Constitution long before the "We the People" craze that recently enveloped this nation. Byrd's devotion to the Constitution is something that would serve this country well if every politician were as devoted to it as he was.

With his dear Erma once again, the son of a coal miner and the beloved son of West Virginia is at rest. His complete love for his home and his unyielding support for his constituency will never again be matched in the United States Senate. A mere mortal has left this life with the deepest appreciation of his state, a populous that has said in their parting with him, "well done, our good and faithful servant." That alone is the true measure of this man.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

God & the Constitution

Editor's Note: With the 4th of July just hours away, the Constitution weighing on my mind, Glenn Beck irking me immensely, and with my Byrd post slow in the coming, here is a guest post that I'd forgotten to post.

by Leonard Hitchcock

In the opinion pages of this newspaper, and in the right-wing media, it is now common to hear the U.S. Constitution spoken of as a document somehow anointed by God and therefore meriting a reverence that precludes interpretation, revision or criticism. This portrayal of the Constitution is used to attack the liberal view that the Constitution is a “living document” that must be evaluated in light of contemporary circumstances and societal opinion. It is a portrayal whose rhetorical effectiveness depends upon its ability to appropriate and manipulate religious beliefs in the service of a political viewpoint.

Fundamentalist Christians seem particularly susceptible to this rhetorical tactic. The nature of their religious convictions suggests that they have a deep-seated intolerance of uncertainty and a craving for unimpeachable authority. They value unquestioning faith and unwavering commitment, and they have a tendency to see God as a causal agent in everyday life. It’s hardly surprising that they are receptive to political positions that offer absolute assurance of truth, and the opportunity to engage in what they are led to believe is a holy cause. They welcome the news that the Constitution is not just another political theory, but rather a revelation of how God wishes us to lead our political lives. They are favorably disposed to the view that God had a hand in creating the Constitution, and that, just as in the case of the Bible, God’s word must be taken literally, not as interpreted by “experts” like Supreme Court justices.

Because persuading the religious right that political issues are really religious ones is not too difficult, politicians and pundits of all stripes, whether believers or not, are adept at the manipulation of the faithful. There are, of course, some ranters on the right who actually believe their own diatribes; who believe that the Constitution, a document written amid controversy and compromise by a group of deists imbued with the principles of 18th century political philosophy, is supernaturally sanctified and the touchstone of political wisdom for all times and peoples. They believe this, despite the fact that it is nonsense.

Few political ideas in the Constitution were new: the division of authority, the balance of powers, republicanism, due process, the rights of man – all had already been thought of. The Constitution does not establish a demonstrably better form of government than, say, the parliamentary system, and it has evident flaws, which political scientists have pointed out (see, e.g., Levinson, Our Undemocratic Constitution). The founders were no more prescient about the future of the country than one might expect intelligent men to be. They knew that changing times would necessitate alterations in their document; that’s why they provided a means to amend it. The fact that there have now been 27 amendments suggests just how imperfect the original document was (and to what extent, as it now stands, it represents not just the wisdom of the founders, but that of the American people.) Finally, the founders made it abundantly clear that the political and religious realms must be completely independent. There is hardly a more egregious violation of that principle than the claim that the Christian God ghostwrote the Constitution.

Today’s most conspicuous, and perhaps sincere, advocate for the Constitution’s Biblical stature is Glenn Beck. Beck, a Mormon convert, shares his sect’s inclination to deify the Constitution and has championed the writings of W. Cleon Skousen, a fellow Mormon who was such as extreme conservative that even his church disavowed his views. Skousen was a professional anti-Communist and lecturer for the John Birch Society and founded an organization that is known today as the National Center for Constitutional Studies. The NCCS holds seminars on the Constitution with which many Idahoans and Utahans are familiar, and currently has offices in Mesa, Arizona and Malta, Idaho. Skousen’s book, The Making of America is a text for such seminars, and stresses God’s role in the shaping of America.

The essential message of the leaders of the ultra-right to their followers is this: “All you really need to know about politics you learned in Sunday school. You don’t need to know about foreign relations, you don’t need to understand economics, you don’t need to study the opinions of the experts. Politics is simple: it’s about liberty; it’s about hating it when people boss you around, it’s about knowing right from wrong. So: go with your gut, believe in your anger, and trust in your faith. And if you have any questions about what a good Christian should think about states’ rights, or gay marriage, or the commerce clause, just ask us. We know what God wants.”

(This opinion piece ran in the Idaho State Journal and is reprinted here with the generous permission of the author.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Robert C. Byrd, 1917-2010

In lieu of the Byrd post I have yet to finish, click on the above image to find the complete schedule for Byrd's memorial service, funeral and burial.