Just Above Sunset
February 20, 2005 - Dean Leads the Democrats

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Oh heck, I just like Howard Dean.  And now he’s chair of the Democratic Party.  Much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, of course.  We’ll lose the middle for sure now!  We’ll become obscure and insignificant and powerless (and most of us will thus get dandruff and develop a limp and pass gas or whatever).  This sort of thing is all I hear on NPR and middle-of-the road news shows.  It’s over.  We’re toast.  Dean will be the ruin of us all.


No.  Paul Krugman explains. 


Money quote?


The Republicans know the America they want, and they are not afraid to use any means to get there.  But there is something that this administration and the Republican Party are very afraid of.  It is that we may actually begin fighting for what we believe.


Right!  Decency, tolerance, fairness and generosity will do for a start.  The “other” Christian values the rigid religious right mocks these days.  They just won’t put up with gays in monogamous long-term relationships seeking legal marriage?  They just won’t put up with other people anywhere being allowed to watch movies and televisions shows that don’t reinforce their own values?  They know, and fervently believe, that they must convert Muslims to the “true” religion – for their own good, even if they hate the idea?  They won’t allow any teenage girls to wear low-rider jeans (recent law passed in Virginia) or that cartoon sponge to suggest getting along with the “wrong” people is a good idea?  Call them out.  Screen those old WWII black-and-white war movies from the forties with John Garfield and William Bendix and such at war together – folks from all over with different religions and backgrounds kidding around and getting the job done.  Some of us still believe in that stuff.  I’d bet many people do, if you remind them of the idea.  Change the national myth (that’s all it was, really) back to enjoying the “different” in the other guy.  Stop being so damned afraid of the different.  Claim that being curious and learning new things is good for you, and good for everyone.  No need to be afraid of that, really.  Hell, it could actually be fun too.  On the other hand, you might start liking French people, a difficult and quite different sort of folk.  But what if you said that they really don’t have to be just like us and we’d like to understand how they see things.  What a concept!


Ah yes, but how then could we remain pure and keep our unique American-ness?  We’d know too much.  That apple Eve handed Adam was from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We’d still be in the Garden if we hadn’t been so damned curious.  We are at heart Puritans.


And this on caution and prudence -


… on Iraq, many moderates, including moderate Republicans, quietly shared Mr. Dean's misgivings - which have been fully vindicated - about the march to war.  But Mr. Dean, of course, wasn't quiet.  He frankly questioned the Bush administration's motives and honesty at a time when most Democrats believed that the prudent thing was to play along with the war party.  We'll never know whether Democrats would have done better over the past four years if they had taken a stronger stand against the right.  But it's clear that the time for that sort of caution is past.


Yep.  As Lily Tomlin once put it -  “If you can’t be yourself, why be?”  Time to stand up.  How did William Blake put it?  “Prudence is a rich ugly old maid, courted by incapacity.”


Here’s the whole editorial -


The Fighting Moderates

Paul Krugman, The New York Times, February 15, 2005


The premise -


“The Republicans know the America they want, and they are not afraid to use any means to get there," Howard Dean said in accepting the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. "But there is something that this administration and the Republican Party are very afraid of. It is that we may actually begin fighting for what we believe."


Those words tell us what the selection of Mr. Dean means. It doesn't represent a turn to the left: Mr. Dean is squarely in the center of his party on issues like health care and national defense. Instead, Mr. Dean's political rejuvenation reflects the new ascendancy within the party of fighting moderates, the Democrats who believe that they must defend their principles aggressively against the right-wing radicals who have taken over Congress and the White House.


Read the rest for the detailed argument.  Might as well make a stand.


Well, Dean is too secular, correct?  What do the democrats do about the idea floating around that most Americans are evangelical Christian angry at their religion being shoved aside in politics and law and in the culture?  Should we be more religious?  Should we have reject Dean because he doesn’t boast he was born again – because, if he was, he won’t say?


As one commentator (Leah A.) says -


The assumption in so much of this discussion is that if you don't follow a specific religious practice, you are not a believer.  Well, I believe in all kinds of things that aren't material.  I believe in the promise of America, I believe in the Constitution, I believe in the Bill of Rights, I believe in the Golden Rule, I believe in the human spirit, I believe that evolution is both a theory and a fact, I believe that suffering can be redemptive, but don't believe that that belief is any reason to inflict suffering on anyone.  Oh hell, who cares what I believe?  Fair enough.  Just don't try and tell me what I believe, or how I'm supposed to feel about religion because I'm a Democrat, or a liberal, or Jewish, or believe in the separation of church and state.


… I'll admit I may have already been seething … having just listened to Cookie Roberts explain on NPR why Dr. Dean is such a bad idea for the Democratic Party, especially so because so many prominent Democrats are trying to temper the party's position on abortion, which Cookie pronounced as extreme. Oh God, isn't it time for Cookie to retire, or can't we get NPR to offer someone to rebut her predictable slams against Democrats?

See, I talk to God, too. And I'm not the least bit uncomfortable with religion, even though I do not go to synagogue, do not keep kosher, and do not consider myself religiously observant. I have felt completely at home sitting in a Quaker meeting, through a Protestant service, a Catholic one, and one more than a few occasions, Pentecostal services, vesting a Mosque, traveling in India with a group of Muslims from Bangladesh who prayed five times a day, and attending a Hindu puja, to mention but a few of my experiences of religion. John Kerry has been a believing, observant Catholic his whole life. I doubt that he's uncomfortable with religion, either. The civil rights movement was suffused with religion, and no one was uncomfortable about it. That, of course, is often cited to accuse the left of hypocrisy, that we welcome religion when it's convenient, reject it when the other side invokes it. Note there is nothing inevitable about that conclusion; why isn't our readiness to accept religious dialogue in the service of ideas in which we believe an indication that we're not uncomfortable with religion, only with religion that seeks a special place for its ideas because they happen to be held by a majority, as in "this is a Christian country?"

I'll tell you why it's never presented in that light. Because branding as anti-religious anyone who believes that the establishment clause in the first amendment means that government should be relatively free of specific religious practice has become a cudgel in the hands of the right wing in this country with which to beat liberal ideas over the head.


So Leah takes a stand –


Could we get something else straight, please? No one on the left is saying that religion must be banished from the public square. Nor, if you haven't noticed, is it absent from that public square. Is Jerry Fallwell's church not part of the public square? Is Liberty University not part of the public square? Are the crèches many churches display, or individual homeowners, for that matter, at Christmas, not part of the public square?

What the rightwing does constantly is to conflate that tiny part of the public square where is located government with the whole of the public square. Judge Moore was free to plaster his car, his home, even himself, with any version of the Ten Commandments that pleased him. All of those things, his car, his home, he himself, are part of the public square. The only part of the public square that he did not have the right to decide needed a large statute with his favorite version of those ten commandments chiseled into it was a public courthouse where Americans of all religions, or the lack thereof, have a right to expect that they will be treated as equal before the law.

… And what, in heaven's name, is wrong with a certain amount of skepticism about belief itself. Are we really sure we want to repeal the entire Enlightenment, from whence was born our founding fathers and our constitution? Imagine the fuss if anyone prominent today were to echo what E.M. Forester was unafraid to say when asked by the BBC, along with a lot of other prominent figures, to sketch out their thoughts on a war-time credo for the British people. Under the title, What I Believe, here, from what I am able to remember (can't find my copy of the book) here is at least some of what he said:


I do not believe in Belief. But this is an age of faith, and there are so many militant creeds around that in self-defense one has to formulate a creed of one's own. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by by religioius and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules, and science, who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy, they are what matter really, but for the time being they are not enough; they want stiffening, even if the process coarsens them. Faith, to my mind, is a stiffening process, a sort of mental starch, which ought to be applied sparingly. I dislike the stuff. I do not believe in it for its own sake at all. Herein, I probably differ from most people who do believe in Belief, and are only sorry that they can't swallow more of than they already do. My lawgivers are Erasmus and Montaigne, not Moses and St. Paul. My temple stands not on Mount Moriah, but in that Elysian Field where even the immoral are admitted. My motto is: "Lord, I disbelieve, help thou my unbelief."


That was written in late 1939, when war with Germany was understood by anyone as bright as Forester to be inevitable. Despite his innate skepticism about belief, he manages in the rest of the essay to sketch a compelling version of a liberal credo. As I say, what's wrong with a little skepticism, what's wrong with invoking Erasmus or Montaigne? Maybe it won't play in Peoria, but that doesn't make it un-American, either. And frankly, I think a lot of the rest of the essay would play quite well in Kansas, if I could but find it to give further examples. What gets in the way of liberals being able to talk with Kansans, is all those liberals telling the good people of Kansas what jerks most liberals are.


Leah wants us to say we don’t believe in BELIEF itself?  Count me in. 


Why?  Such BELIEF is dangerous stuff.  Skepticism isn’t.


We shall see how this all plays out.  The election in 2008 may be the one where we are asked to choose between a secular government, as we’ve had, or the Christian theocracy we’re told most everyone wants. 


Dean stands on the secular my-religion-is-my-business-and-not-yours side.  And maybe that is the losing side.  But maybe not.



Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....