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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Politics

First off, last night my pastor commented that when I write about politics on my blog I seemed to get "pretty excited." Ouch. Sometimes the truth of an observation can make it sting despite its gentle delivery. I'll try to be better.

Gideon: How To Fight a Righteous Battle

Here is a story from the Book of Judges, which is a wonderful collection of folktales that I recommend to anyone.
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. . . . Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help.

[T]he angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior."

"But sir," Gideon replied, "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian."
Gideon requires God to perform several minor feats of magic dealing with dew before he will believe. God complies and so Gideon puts his army together.
The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, 'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.' " So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

But the LORD said to Gideon, "There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, 'This one shall go with you,' he shall go; but if I say, 'This one shall not go with you,' he shall not go."

So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, "Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink." Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.

The LORD said to Gideon, "With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place."
Gideon goes on to win the day with his 300.

Obama: How to Fight a Righteous Campaign

Last night Hillary Clinton managed to stay in the campaign. She surely closed some of the gap in the popular vote of primary goers, but probably did nothing to close the gap in delegates. I wish my guy had won, but he didn't. I think his chances of being president have not changed much.

The story will be that Hillary won by going negative. To be fair, it is policy negative: Barack is weak on foreign policy, Barack is not being honest about his position on NAFTA, etc. We really have no idea about where the Obama is a Muslim or similar stuff comes from or even how effective such things are. Nonetheless, she will be encouraged to go even more aggressively negative in Pennsylvania.

The hope of this novice is that Obama, like Gideon, will defy conventional wisdom and not answer with attacks. I hope that he answers her charges, but with nothing more negative than perhaps a little "not only was I right, but I got it right the first time." I am afraid if he does much more than that he will lose his standing as a different kind of politician. Also, I would like to see a positive campaign overcome a negative campaign. I would like to see hope beat cynicism.

Finally, to be clear, I have no idea if this is a successful strategy. It may be necessary for Obama to start a whisper campaign that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian and start publicly attacking her as a win-at-all-costs politician that John McCain will crush in the general election. I just really, really hope that isn't the case.

Linda, how was that?

11 comments:

Lin said...

Well, Jim, first of all, I'm pretty sure God called me to be your pastor so that I could grow and be stretched spiritually, not so much the other way around. And there's no reason to dilute the strength of your words. They are powerful -- and much of their power rests in the depth of your passion -- which is precious. Besides, remember that almost all of the time I agree with you & want you to shout what I might be timid about shouting.

Your question: "How was that?"

Beautifully said. Graciously worded. Profoundly true. We need another way -- another kind of politics. Reminds me of that thing I said about Jesus being a movement that provides a third way for us -- not fundamentalist, not abandoning faith. (no, I'm not confusing Obama with Jesus -- any inference was unintentional)

Love your blog.

L

Lin said...

p.s. If Obama is Obama could Clinton be Clinton -- or the other way, if Hillary is Hillary could Barack be Barack?

One other way that sexist bias has entered the political scene this year. I wonder how many people are conscious of the difference between using first names which imply familiarity & informality & less respect, and using last names which imply professionalism, formality and more respect.

JimII said...

Beautifully said. Graciously worded. Profoundly true. We need another way --

Ah, validation. That's some ask and you shall receive right there.

a third way for us -- not fundamentalist, not abandoning faith

Are you aware of the Third Way as applied to politics? At http://www.thirdway.org/ you'll find a semi-progressive group that you may agree with. The leftist blogosphere hates them. I'm not sure what I think. To the extent they stand for capitulating to the dramatic move to the right in the country they're bad. To the extent they're pragmatic rather than dogmatic they're good.


If Obama is Obama could Clinton be Clinton -- or the other way, if Hillary is Hillary could Barack be Barack?

This is a funny comment because it is like when people at church come up to us and ask questions that we thought we'd answered fifty million times. I would have thought people have heard this discussed to death, but then I realize there are lots of people that do things other than read political blogs and watch political coverage and talk to their similiarly addicted friends about politics.

Basically, it goes like this: Hillary is Hillary because (1) Clinton doesn't distinquish her from Bill and (2) all of her materials, signs, website, etc. identify her as Hillary. Journalists should call her "Senator Clinton" because that solves the problem. However, in passing conversation I don't have a problem adopting the name she has put forward to identify herself. (Notice, Barack Obama's materials all say "Obama" and John McCain's all say "McCain.")

Matt Dick said...

Lin, I read your statement another way. You asked:

If Obama is Obama could Clinton be Clinton -- or the other way, if Hillary is Hillary could Barack be Barack?

And I see what you mean, but I read it originally as a question about the negativity of the campaign: could Obama be so "above the fray" as a politician if he didn't have Clinton being a bull-dog wrestling him in the mud?

I think I read it this way because I am one of Jim's politically addicted friends and we've worried the first-name/last-name problem to death.

I think Jim's statement about why it's okay for Clinton to be Hillary is right: she's putting herself out there like that. But if John McCain started calling himself, "Big Bad John", it would be absurd for Tim Russert to do the same. So professional commentators need to stick to "Clinton", "Senator Clinton", or "Hillary Clinton".

Lin said...

Yes, Matt, yes, Jim, I know that Clinton has called herself Hillary. And there may even be some political wisdom in separating herself from her husband in this race. But if her campaign is successful, do you think she'll refrain from calling herself, or us calling her, President Clinton? After all, that will require some clarification, won't it?

Besides that, nobody's talking much about Bill these days, so who will be confused if we refer to her as Clinton? Especially if in the same sentence we are referring to Obama?

I haven't read or heard anything that indicates that Obama would mind being called Barack.

Sorry -- it's still sexism. But I won't ask the 2 of you to chew a piece of gum that's lost its flavor.

No, I don't know about the Third Way -- will check it out & measure whether I want to use the term again.

Matt, I agree that Clinton's bulldogging creates a negative enough backdrop that Obama looks even better. But he looks good on his own. And the reverse is beginning to apply -- the better his comportment, the more her comments sound like attacks. I think that's what you were saying, Jim -- you hope he keeps this up. I agree that it will be very wise of him to keep his composure.

So, Jim, why do you think that the warriors who lapped the water like dogs were the ones that got culled?

L

Lin said...

OK -- so I'm going to be careful about using the term "third way". The postmodern writers in the Christian community have been talking for a while about another way, sometimes a "third" way, where polarities meet, people with diverse opinions converse, dichotomies dissolve into diversity. Interesting that the Third Way site posts an article about Evangelical & Progressive Christians having dialogue over socio-political issues.

Here's what may be important -- depending on your position, possibly threatening -- about this. It is a quality of the current young adult segment of this society to prefer that alternative that doesn't divide us -- so this group that's calling itself the Third Way is very smart -- watch them suck up a bunch of young people. Remember how popular the Moral Majority was?

Just want to clarify -- I'm a sociologist, not a political junkey, so simply observing this in the context of a society that's in love with bandwagons -- and buys whole packages of things in slick, shiny wrapping.

Also, I take back what I said about not asking Matt and Jim to chew on a piece of gum that has lost its flavor. Here's the deal -- we live in a patriarchal society where misogyny has been institutionalized so thoroughly and for so long that it's hardly recognized. The gum has not lost its flavor for all of us.

Lin

JimII said...

Re: Sexism
we live in a patriarchal society where misogyny has been institutionalized so thoroughly and for so long that it's hardly recognized.

Absolutely. And in fact, I would suggest that I do recognize the instutionalized sexism. I think using Hillary has sexist roots. The same sexist roots that cause our governor to promote herself as Janet. A tough, smart, agressive woman probably reaps an advantage from the electorate by softening her image with a first name.

Also, just because Janet & Hillary do it, that doesn't mean it is not sexist. Women are as capable of perpectuating sexism as men.

I just don't think I'm being sexist by respecting their choices. If Hillary Clinton was my aunt and asked to have invitations sent to her addressed as "Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton," would it make me sexist to comply?

To be sure, journalists should call her Senator Clinton. And perhaps I should also. I just think it is pretty significant that she really badly wants me to call her Hillary.

JimII said...

Re: Exclusion of those who lapped like dogs

'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.'
. . . .
Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.


Gideon's army was composed of neither cowards nor savages. That's a good standard. One we strive to achieve today. Actually, that may describe good character in a general.

JimII said...

OK -- so I'm going to be careful about using the term "third way".

No reason to be careful, just good to know the potential confusion. Remember the consideration of Mariposa Christian Church?

Matt Dick said...

Lin,

Thanks for the feedback. Like Jim, I don't mind going over it again. It's so complicated an issue (sexism, perpetuating, led-by-women, Clinton herself, etc, etc) that it bears continued scrutiny.

Like Jim, I have been surrounded, have loved and been loved by strong women my whole life. Because of that, I may have a skewed perspective of how insidious institutional sexism is.

As it happens, I think I tend to see it for what it is. In the case of Clinton, she's put herself (and me) in a weird position. She's branded herself strongly, very strongly, as "Hillary". Is it possible that its origins are related to the forces Jim points out, that as a strong woman she's had to soften herself to combat the bitch-image? I think it may certainly be. Is it also likely a way to familiarize herself to a voting public who already has strong associations with the word "Clinton"? Certainly on some level. Recall "I like Ike!" That was a branding issue as well -- he wasn't doing that for sexist reasons obviously, he had a branding issue.

Now, I'm about to go to an argument that has some subtlety, so try to see through to my point and not get stuck at the beginning -- I acknowledge that sexism (even perpetuate by Clinton on some level) is probably at play here.

Eventually we want to get to a place where women and men are equal not just in opportunity, but in perception and as judged by others. When we reach that day, women will not have to worry about calling themselves "Hillary" instead of "Clinton", they'll make that choice entirely based on it's expediency. Like the "Ike" example, in those future and far-off times, we'll be happy to call her "Hillary" if she asks us to. I want to be in those days.

Related, my mother was an executive in a high-tech company, well before it was easy for her to be doing that. She fought through a lot of institutional, explicit, and every other sort of sexism. She talked to me about it, and she said that she chose her battles. Sometimes she chose to fight it, and sometimes she chose to take a different path. Who knows the exact right mix, but she once told me, "Sometimes I was treated badly for reasons other than sexism." She says she often chose to take a slight, and pro-actively assume it was not sexism. She acted as if it didn't exist, and sometimes that was enough to turn it into an environment where the sexism eased.

So what if we all act as if there is no institutional sexism driving Hillary Clinton to brand herself as "Hillary"? Let's decide that it's pure political expediency -- she needs to distinguish herself from Bill, she needs to distance herself from the "third Clinton term" argument, and like Ike, she needs to find a friendlier way to approach a constituency she doesn't naturally appeal to.

If we stubbornly demand to ourselves that it isn't sexism, can we bring the future and far-off sexism-free land a little closer?

JimII said...

If we stubbornly demand to ourselves that it isn't sexism, can we bring the future and far-off sexism-free land a little closer?

It's intriguing. In the abstract, it always seems more noble to confront the evil and call it out. But then I think about my dad's reaction to rascist comments has always been to either not respond to them, or just respond with a slight facial expression. He told me that let the person understand he did not accept their racism, but didn't require that person to discount him as a self-protection mechanism.