24 January 2008

Nine more months of this?

Nobody loves watching the political scene more than I do, and I even retain a touchingly naïve belief that politics can lead to a better world. But even as I avidly read the analyses of the columnists I enjoy--particularly my current favorites, David Brooks and Gail Collins of the New York Times--I've been paying less and less attention to the daily coverage of the current U.S. presidential primary season. I've not even watched a single debate. Shocking!

From what I hear, I'm not the only one who's had enough of the bookmaking approach to political journalism: who's one-upping whom, who's playing identity politics most effectively (or the question's more jaundiced variant, who's best at pandering to whom*), and who's gaming the system best? Jay Rosen's article, "Mindlessness in the Media, Campaign 2008," reassures me that it's not just me getting cranky--there's something seriously wrong. But, sadly, it's not likely to get better soon. Rosen's analysis points to a combination of factors, but prime among them, the constant insecurity of the genre's practitioners.

As Rosen says, the media really might have better things to do than to tell us how we're supposed to behave based on polls and political tacticians' calculations--for example, to reveal how the candidates understand the limits of presidential power. This Boston Globe candidate survey, mentioned in Rosen's article, is exactly what we should have more of. How hard could it be to take a crucial issue ("What is the proper scope of the president's executive power?") and press the candidates to answer the question and explain their answers? And it's all the more important to do that in full view of a planetary community that is visibly rearranging itself (and discounting the global economy) in part to compensate for a renegade United States of America.

Whew, I feel better. Good enough, in fact, to recommend this Lynn Gazis-Sax post on whether it makes sense to prefer a candidate based on electability.

* Apologies to those suffering from jaundice.

This past Tuesday evening, Judy and I attended the weekly Ministerios Restauración prayer meeting. The pastor, Samuel Morán, led a lectio divina on John 21:1-19, the seaside breakfast with the risen Lord. For me, it was a revelatory experience. Every time I've read that passage, I've concentrated on the edgy exchange between Jesus and Peter: "Do you love me more than these?" "Lord, you know I do." "Then feed my sheep."

This time, several other moments flashed out at me in the silence:
    It is the Lord!
    None of the disciples dared to ask him, 'Who are you?'
    Cast the net to the right side of the boat.
    Follow me.

Several e-mails directed my attention to the American Friends Service Committee's "Cost of War" video. I agree with the video's sentiment, but the argument is unpersuasive. The money being burned to prosecute this immoral and criminal campaign (I refuse even the pseudo-dignity of the word "war") would never have been available for those thousands of teachers and other good things. Those $720 million per day were extorted from our pockets by manipulating the Congress (which, let's remember, bowed down in fear), by cooking the books (so much for balanced budgets) and by wholesale deception and scare tactics unworthy of the leadership of a great democracy.

If we are ever going to fund social justice, we'll have to figure out how to make a powerful enough case to overcome the natural class solidarity of the very wealthy, who too often remain shortsighted enough to believe we can be a great country with a great future despite an unsustainable, corrosive gulf between the richest and the poorest; and the understandable skepticism of those who no longer believe that government can be trusted with fiscal wisdom. One thing is sure: The money for education, health care, and environmental stewardship won't come from the kind of corrupt leadership that somehow spent $5 million on "democracy-building" by trial and (fatal) error in Iraq during the minutes it took me to write these words.

Righteous links: On hope and despair: John Dear writes about Dr. King's final refusal to give up. ~/~ Reedwood Friends Church's Center for Christian Studies offers "The Language of God": a six-week class on God’s creation and the place of human beings in it. ~/~ Be part of the Friends Committee on National Legislation legislative priorities discernment--and invite your church or meeting to participate as well. ~/~ A treasure trove of Quaker writing: Illinois Yearly Meeting's speaker archives are available online. (Thanks to David Finke.)

Just when I needed something like this: A group of musicians from St Petersburg, the Chill Out Blues Band! Listen to the lead singer's accent!

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