Friday, December 14, 2007

Huckabee Leading in Iowa, South Carolina, and now, Florida

Buckle your seat belts.

Sex and the Religious Right

The war against sexual pleasure:

“Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign… [T]he only purpose for which government may rightfully exercise power… over anyone is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”- John Stuart Mill, 1859 essay On Liberty

“Puritanism - the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.”- H.L. Mencken

Do you have or want to have sex? If so, are you willing to limit your sexual expression to the missionary position within the confines of state-sanctioned marriage? If your answer to the first question is “yes,” and the second “no,” you ought to read Marty Klein’s book America’s War on Sex as soon as possible.

Since the onset of the second Bush presidency, we’ve all become familiar with the term “culture war.” (Although its roots go back as far as the Reagan era and the Moral Majority. Someone, I forget who, once said, “The Moral Majority is neither moral nor a majority.“) I’d always thought of this “war” in terms of free speech, prayer in the schools, displaying the Ten Commandments in government buildings or nativity scenes in public places, the separation of church and state, and abortion, contraception and family planning controversy.

The culture war has always been framed as the Right vs. the Left, Republicans vs. Democrats, Conservatives vs. Liberals, theocracy vs. democracy, and science vs. faith. It seems that over the last seven years, the conservatives led by George W. Bush and his faith-based initiatives appear to be winning.

It never occurred to me that President Bush wanted to eliminate the right of the American people to acquire dildos. That’s right. Dildos.

According to Klein, “The state of Alabama has been in and out of court, trying to criminalize the sale of vibrators for a decade. When a U.S. district judge ruled against the state ban on sex-toy sales - twice - the state appealed - twice. Finally, a federal court actually ruled that the government has a compelling interest in keeping ‘orgasm stimulating paraphernalia’ out of our hands. Were they concerned that women would stop having sex with their husbands if they could buzz off with a vibrator?”

Klein goes on to write in depth on the various “battlegrounds” the Right has chosen to fight:
1. Sex EducationAbstinence-only programs. Do they work? No.


2. Reproductive Rights
Klein wants to know why the right to get pregnant, give birth, or not should be a major concern of the Right, both political and religious, though they don’t always overlap. “Other than your partner - and possibly your mother,” Klein asks, “why would anyone - especially a stranger - care about whether or not you use a condom…?”

The belief underlying the move to limit everyone’s access to contraceptives is that the only legitimate purpose of sex is procreation and marital intimacy. Contraception means that sex can be used for other reasons, that is, pleasure. That is what the battle over reproductive rights ultimately is: limiting sex for pleasure.

If you think it’s really about the right of the fetus to come to term, or the “every sperm is sacred” argument (see song by Monty Python’s Flying Circus), then look at this quote by Joseph Scheidler, national director of the Pro-Life action league. He said, “I would like to outlaw contraception. It is disgusting - people using each other for pleasure.” He really said that. It isn’t often the power brokers of the Religious Right admit the truth behind their political maneuvering.

As a result of this political activity on the part of what Klein calls “erotophobes” (people who hate anything sexy), most states now allow pharmacists to refuse to fill any legal prescription, though they usually refuse to fill RU-486 (the morning-after pill). New laws are being enacted to protect pharmacists who then refuse to refer patients to other pharmacies that will help them.

Klein writes, “Pharmacists do not have this right. Your Aunt Mabel does - in private. Indeed, pharmacists have the same rights as your Aunt Mabel to withhold, cajole, persuade, and bully in order to shape your behavior - in private.” Is refusing to sell medicine to help someone have responsible sex any different than refusing to sell a black family a house in a white neighborhood? No. It’s discrimination, pure and simple.

Klein goes on to ask if there is a limit on people’s right to enforce their morality on others? Could a department store clerk refuse to sell you clothing made in China? Could a physician refuse to give you a blood transfusion because it’s against God’s will? Can a guidance counselor refuse to help a girl get into MIT because girls can’t be scientists?

3. Broadcast “Indecency”
Remember the furor caused by the “accidental” exposure of Janet Jackson’s nipple during the Superbowl halftime show? Organizations like Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America, Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Kevin Martin at the Federal Communications Commission have banded together to restrict content they have labeled “indecent” (not allowed on the air from 6 a.m. to midnight) or “obscene” (not allowed ever).

The original purpose of the FCC when it was created in the 1940’s was to 1) encourage diversity of programming, 2) make sure there was programming specifically for children, and 3) assign unique frequencies to radio and television broadcasters from the usable spectrum that was limited by the technology available at that time.

The FCC no longer bothers with its first two mandates, and, with the invention of satellite, cable and broadband, the public airwaves are not the same kind of resource that they once were, thus eliminating the third reason for the FCC.

Perhaps in an effort to justify its ongoing existence and budget, the FCC has assumed the role of government watchdog, policing the content of airwaves. It justified its intrusion because “TV and radio come into the privacy of people’s homes.” According to Klein, “It was a ridiculous argument, but the courts agreed. The rise of satellite radio, cable TV and pay-per-view TV has demolished that audience-as-passive-victim argument,” but the government intrusion continues. Fines imposed by the FCC have risen from $48,000 in 2000 to $7.9 million in 2004.

An example of how far the culture of censorship has taken us is Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. A Kentucky public radio station refused to air an episode in August 2005 because of the word “breast,” meaning “heart,” “soul,” or “conscience.” Klein quotes WUKY station manager Tom Godell as saying, “I don’t question the artistic merit, but I have to question the language. The FCC has been so inconsistent, we don’t know where we stand. We could no longer risk a fine.”

I haven’t got the time or space to describe in detail Klein’s other “battlegrounds”: Adult Entertainment (bookstores and strip clubs closed to expensive court battles over misuse of zoning laws), the Internet (public libraries forced to use filtering software or lose federal funding, software that indiscriminately shuts down sexual health sites and sites that use the name “Dick” for example along with porn sites), the War on Pornography (“In West Germany, rape rates declined once bans on pornography were lifted in 1973 - Philip D. Harvey, The Government vs. Erotica: The Siege of Adam and Eve.), and Sexual Privacy and Sexual Minorities (“It is heartbreakingly ironic that, although victims of domestic violence rarely have their children taken from them, the court’s insistence on treating [practitioners of sadomasochism as victims of domestic violence] provided the rationale limiting [parents contact with their own children].” Klein, p. 168).

The most thought provoking idea in Klein’s book, however, can be found in chapter three “The Most Powerful ‘Minority’ in the United States.” He writes, “I’m confused. Exactly who is this ‘they’ that the Religious Right keep saying has hijacked the country?… And who are the consumers of the cultural products the Religious Right constantly criticizes? Who do they think is watching Desperate Housewives, going to see Maid in Manhattan, buying Cosmopolitan, and downloading Janet Jackson’s half-second nipple?…They have gotten the government and media to support them as defenders of America’s wholesomeness against some mythical, incredibly powerful ’them’… But the Right is like the kid who kills his parents and asks for mercy because he’s an orphan. Somehow, they neglect to mention that it’s the consumer choices and other preferences of their own constituents that are the so-called problem.”

In other words, it is the average, working- and middle-class, Republican voters that are watching porn in private and crying out (and voting) against it in public. The most visible leaders of the Right, including Jimmy Swaggart, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Guiliani and Strom Thurmond had extramarital affairs, visited prostitutes and participated in sexual harassment.

Are they included in the “them” that is hijacking the country from decent folk like you and me?
The central trouble with this war on sex is that early on in the history of Western civilization, sex has been demonized by religious leaders until today it is the norm to be ashamed of any sexual impulse whatsoever.

Who in their right mind is going to stand up for the rights of Americans to get a lap dance? Which of us will be strong enough to battle our own guilt and throw off the oppressive shackles of shame to stand up to these hypocrites? I hope that I can when the time comes, and I’m grateful that Marty Klein and the American Civil Liberties Union does.

h/t Andrew Sullivan

Maybe one or more of our criticism-sensitive candidates could address this concern.

Yes, and?

The Carpetbagger:

I’m obviously not a neutral observer when it comes to ideology, but I like to think I’m objective enough to evaluate the quality of the two sets of presidential hopefuls. And by every measurement I can think of, the Democratic field is more serious, more credible, more knowledgeable, more consistent, more principled, and more dignified.

And I wish those terms were predictive of campaign success.

More seriously, while all that is true from our perspective, a more disinterested examination of the respective party fields might also ponder what the actual electoral attributes and prospects are of the candidates. One Democratic candidate is a racial minority, another is a woman (and spouse of a male president whose partisan hate-club spans over two decades) with her own high negatives. A third main contender hails from the South, which offers the potential to pull in electoral votes Democrats haven't won in over a generation, but has no executive experience.

While I am proud to support Obama, and think the upside of nominating him outweighs the downside of going "safe", let's not get too heady, here.

CNN online goes Nation Inquirer

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while now, but this most recent page of CNN online "Latest News" items reminded me again:

Latest News

WDIV: Tots left home alone three days
WPLG: Woman, 26, married to 10 men
Woman chained inside home scrawls 911
Girl, 9, drives dad having a heart attack
Cloned cats glow red in the dark
Digital wanted posters help find fugitives
Eva Longoria denies hubby Tony cheated

There are some legitimate news stories at the top but as the list descends it envelops more and more of the bizarre. And this is pretty typical. I figure we're not too far away from "Two Headed Alien From Mars Stays The Night, Says Family" or "JFK Still Lives, Man Says".

Here's more:
Roaming, thieving monkeys sought in roundup
Christmas card arrives 93 years late
'Baseline Killer' suspect gets 438 years
Lawmaker choked by tie in assembly brawl
Soldier dad pops out of girls' Xmas box

Thursday, December 13, 2007

At Least Important Republican Legislation is Getting Passed (Updated below)

Glenn Greenwald laments the tidal wave of media attention to Democratic Party "capitulation", "bowing" and "backing down" to various Administration demands in Congress related to the war and various spending measures but balances such distressing news by highlighting the very important, Republican-sponsored legislation the "Democrat"-led Congress did pass recently.

Update: In addition to it's "Democrats Bow to Bush's Demands in House Spending Bill" the Washington Post also graced us with this homage to Democratic Party haplessness in Congress.

"secular Sweden is free while religious Iran is not"

That's Roger Cohen's retort to Romney's much quoted “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.”

...The U.S. culture wars have produced what David Campbell of Notre Dame University called: “the injection of religion into politics in a very overt way.”

Much too overt for Europeans, whose alarm at George W. Bush’s presidency has been fed by his allusions to divine guidance — “the hand of a just and faithful God” in shaping events, or his trust in “the ways of Providence.”

Such beliefs seem to remove decision-making from the realm of the rational at the very moment when the West’s enemy acts in the name of fanatical theocracy. At worst, they produce references to a “crusade” against those jihadist enemies. God-given knowledge is scarcely amenable to oversight.


Religion informed America’s birth. But its distancing from politics was decisive to the republic’s success. Indeed, the devastating European experience of religious war influenced the founders’ thinking. That is why I find Romney’s speech and the society it reflects far more troubling than Europe’s vacant cathedrals.


[Romney] shows a Wikipedia-level appreciation of other religions, admiring “the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims” and “the ancient traditions of the Jews.” These vapid nostrums suggest his innermost conviction of America’s true faith.


Today's surging political religiosity among the party elite is not only irrational, it's highly ahistorical. We could stand for someone, a political candidate perhaps, reminding us of the history of those years when religion--Christian religion--was much more involved with the state and what the effects of that involvement were.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hillary in Iowa

In the middle of this NYT piece on Hillary having trouble in Iowa, is this sentence:

“It’s a unique and difficult dynamic,” said Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who has become one of Mrs. Clinton’s top Iowa advisers.

Ordinarily, you'd kinda think that having Tom Vilsack--a former two-term governor of Iowa who was once a presidential candidate in this very campaign--endorse you and serve as one of your top state advisors in Iowa would mean that you'd have a pretty good handle on the state. Guess not.

What is "Ethnic Balkanization"?

I know, I should know better than to ask, but this statement from the National Review's endorsement of Mitt Romney for president jumped out at me as being particularly bizzare:

While he has not talked much about the importance of resisting ethnic balkanization — none of the major candidates has — he supports enforcing the immigration laws and opposes amnesty.

Gonna go out on a limb here and conclude that this has something to do with making the country more White again, or something. Maybe the NRO wants a mandatory speak English law established in the name of the "limited government" it also claims to value. But hopefully the folks at NRO will get their wish and the Republican nominee, whoever he is, will run ads about the "importance of resisting ethnic balkanization". I bet it will go over well.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

We Interrupt This Attack Hillary Broadcast...

One of the consequences of the Huckabee surge, of course, is that after trying to make their debates, and potentially any valuable advertising spending, about Hillary, God's Own Party must re-form into a circular firing squad.

"A Return to Normalcy"

David Brooks is making sense:

In Washington, the National Intelligence Estimate was released, suggesting the next president will not face an imminent nuclear showdown with Iran. In Iraq, the surge and tribal revolts produce increasing stability. In Pakistan, the streets have not exploded. In the Middle East, the Arabs and Palestinians stumble toward some sort of peace process. In Venezuela, a referendum set President Hugo Chávez back on his heels.

The world still has its problems, but it no longer seems to be building toward some larger crisis. The atmosphere of fear and conflict has at least temporarily abated. With the change in conditions, the election of 2008 is beginning to feel like a postwar election. American voters are coming out of the shells constructed after Sept. 11th and are looking for a new normalcy. They’re looking for something entirely different.


But the more comprehensive difference between a wartime election and a postwar election is that there is a shift in values. In wartime, leadership traits like courage, steadfastness and ruthlessness are prized. Voters are willing to vote for candidates they distrust so long as they seem tough and effective (Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani).

In a postwar election things are different. When Wall Street Journal/NBC pollsters asked voters what qualities they were looking for in the next leader, their top three choices were: the ability to work well with leaders of other countries; having strong moral and family values; bringing unity to the country. Those are cooperative qualities, not combative ones. They require good listening skills, openness and the ability to compromise.

It’s clear that voters are not only exhausted by the war, they are exhausted by the war over the war. On the Democratic side, Obama captured the mood exactly with his Jefferson-Jackson Day speech of a few weeks ago. In that speech, he asked voters to reject fear, partisanship and textbook politics. He asked them to vote instead on the basis of their aspirations for a new era of national unity. As a result, Obama has pulled ahead in Iowa and approached parity in New Hampshire.

The tragedy of the Republican race is that Mitt Romney and Giuliani, who could have offered a new kind of Republicanism, opted to run as conventional Bush-era Republicans. Now Huckabee has emerged as the fresh alternative. Huckabee is socially conservative, but not a partisan culture warrior. He’s a pragmatic gubernatorial Republican, not a rigid creature of the beltway interest groups.

My guess is that this race has a few more twists and turns. Something terrible could happen in the world, in which case the wartime mentality would be back in spades. Obama and Huckabee could beat Clinton and Romney, respectively, in the early states, only to fall victim to their own weaknesses later on. You laugh, but this thing could still spin into the lap of Fred Thompson or John McCain, Chris Dodd or Joe Biden.


Yeah, I know he talks about how the "surge" has helped "produce increasing stability" and doesn't qualify his statements about the importance of Iraq to voters.

But the theme of a "return to normalcy" doesn't sound all that bad to me.

Now, if Obama would take this idea and apply it to the unnecessary infringements on the Constitution made in the name of fighting a never-ending war on terrorism, a return to normalcy campaign would be substantive as much as rhetorical.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Well give you security if you'll give us back the Bill of Rights

Jamie Holly at Crooks and Liars has this to say about the recent shootings in the heartland:

All this has had me thinking about the FISA debate when proponents of the warrantless wiretapping were quick to argue it was necessary to give up freedoms for security. Would these same people apply that argument to the second amendment instead of the fourth? I think we all know the answer on that. Perhaps the next time a Republican Senator says that we should give up freedoms for security when it comes to listening in on phone calls, then he should be asked about giving up the right to bear arms as a way to protect us in church or at the local mall. Let’s see how quickly the subject changes then.

Yes, lets.

Tancredo No Show (updated below)

I was surprised to read this morning that the GOP candidates debated on Univision before a Hispanic audience. Give credit where credit is due. They aren't giving up yet. But there was a strange absence. All the GOP candidates showed up except...Tom Tancredo.

Why would that be? Everyone knows that opposition to illegal immigration isn't opposition to immigration generally, and certainly not an opposition to Hispanic immigration specifically. Right?

You might be asking me right about now, why do you say everyone knows these things? Why? Because all the opponents of illegal immigration say so. Lou Dobbs says so. The very patriotic Minutemen say so. I'm sure that the author of Whatever It Takes, who got his ass bounced outta Congress last year, probably said it. Hell, I bet even Tom Tancredo has said so.

So why then would Tancredo be a no show at the Hispanic-sponsored debate? I'm totally stumped.

Update: Uh, Tom, this explanation probably won't help:

All the GOP candidates but Tom Tancredo participated in the debate. Tancredo said he would not attend because the debate was to be conducted in Spanish. "It is the law that to become a naturalized citizen of this country you must have knowledge and understanding of English, including a basic ability to read, write, and speak the language," he said in a release. "So what may I ask are our presidential candidates doing participating in a Spanish speaking debate? Pandering comes to mind."