Saturday, July 31, 2010

The President and the Bishop

The careers of two people I've long supported are taking very different courses.

It looks like President Obama is set to be the big loser in the November midterm elections. It won't be because the Republicans are particularly brilliant, quite the contrary. They have nothing to offer but obstruction and a return to 30 years of plutocracy at home and militarism abroad. The much vaunted tea party is nothing more than their own far right wing which has been around for over 50 years, since the days when we called it The John Birch Society.
Obama's going to lose because, once in power, he's come down with Democratic leadership disease. The symptoms are a desperate desire to please implacable conservatives, and dissing the very people who voted him into office and who campaigned for him. Bill Clinton had a very bad case of this disease. The Democratic base, after being dissed and disappointed by their leadership, understandably resists urgent demands that they turn out to vote in midterm elections.
I think it's a safe bet that just about all of 2008's Obama voters will stay home this year. The election will be about turn out. The right smells blood and is going into a feeding frenzy. The disappointed and alienated left will probably stay home on Election Day.
And that's too bad because it means some really toxic crazy people out to repeal the last 150 years of history, as well as common decency, will take over Congress.

It looks like Obama's Waterloo will not be healthcare, but Afghanistan. In 2001, I supported that invasion as the proper response to a government harboring those who attacked us. We succeeded in throwing out that regime, and failed to destroy or apprehend the leadership of Al Qaida (because our leaders suddenly turned their attention to a completely pointless invasion of Iraq). In 2010, I'm wondering just what the point of it is anymore. Right now, it looks like a bad remake of the Vietnam War complete with an impossible campaign of "winning hearts and minds" combined with an aggressive and ruthless military strategy. The Karzai government looks even more corrupt and compromised than the old South Vietnamese regime. It's beginning to look like "we have to destroy the village in order to save it." "Victory" in Vietnam would have required the destruction of that country and its population. It looks like we are facing something similar in Afghanistan. In the end, it might be cheaper and more productive to simply evacuate those who want to leave and resettle them.
My biggest and worst disappointment is in Obama's position on the National Security State. Instead of doing what's necessary to restore the rule of law, he not only refused to undo Bush-Cheney policies, he expanded them. It is inevitable that a future president from either party will use these new dubious powers to silence opposition.

The President looks like he's suffering from the Democratic office holder syndrome of listening too much to paid consultants who tell them to be cautious, and that this is a center-right country that is hostile to even modest social amelioration. In his case, it's compounded by his determination to be "post-partisan." I don't think he's a fool. He argues, and rightly so, that he represents all of the people and not just those who voted for him (in contrast to his predecessor). He also argues that we must all share the same country whether we like each other or not. However, how well is that going to work with an opposition determined to obstruct every single initiative? His opposition would diss him and oppose him even if he was to come out with legislation that says that evil is bad, night is dark, and chocolate is yummy. They are implacable and determined to destroy him and his party. There comes a point where being nice and aiming to please enemies just isn't productive anymore, and it begins to alienate the people who really are friends.
The President has made some solid and historic accomplishments in his first 2 years in office. I'm worried that it will all be sabotaged by his own determination to play nice in the face of an opposition with no scruples about playing dirty. The Shirley Sherrod incident should be a wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee moment for his administration and the Democrats, but I'm not optimistic.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is turning out to be a different story. Katherine Jefferts-Schori, let's remember, had a very weak beginning. Her election came as something of a surprise among a field of very strong candidates. She got off to a very shakey start by strong-arming a very unpopular resolution demanded by Canterbury to abstain from ordaining or consecrating anymore gays and lesbians through the General Convention. She then alienated gays and lesbians and their friends in the church by demanding that they "stand in a crucified place," that the unity of the church would be at their expense.

Things certainly have changed. She's turned out to be much tougher than her predecessors when dealing with schismatic factions in the church. She refuses to be bullied and repeatedly calls their bluff. She retains her public self-possession in the face of bitter personal attacks from an increasingly angry right wing, frustrated at no longer being able to bully the rest of the church into submission. When they threatened to break with the church and leave, she replied that we'll leave the porch light on for them. When they tried to take the silver on the way out, she challenged them in civil court and so far has prevailed.

She shows a similar courage when dealing with hostility from other parts of the Anglican Communion. She firmly and ever so politely stands her ground with those determined to expel the Episcopal Church from the Communion, and with hostile and patronizing English bishops. She repeatedly and publicly demands to know why the Episcopal Church is being singled out for beliefs and practices common in other churches (like the Church of England).
She acted gracefully in the wake of serious insults to herself and to her church, most notably at primates' conferences at Dromantine and Dar es Salaam.
The same bishop who told gay and lesbian Christians to "stand in a crucified place" has become a very public advocate for their rights and dignity in the USA and internationally. She was one of the few bishops, and the only primate, to publicly challenge Uganda's proposed draconian anti-gay laws. She has since very publicly stood up for gays and lesbians, and for other disenfranchised pariah populations in her own church and internationally. She's turned out to be a much more effective political player than originally expected. She inserted herself into the Church of England's debate over women bishops, not by saying anything publicly, but by showing up in England and showing English Anglicans what a woman bishop might be like. Instead of confronting a hostile English hierarchy, she cultivates friendships and relationships with English laity and clergy at the very same moment that the hierarchs are contemplating cutting off the Episcopal Church.
She's turned out to be a great success as a church leader.


IT said...

Great summing up. I too am mightily disappointed with the craven Dems. And the Senate...what a waste.

Leonard said...

EXCELLENT...I too was wrong in thinking ++Katharine was a little too ¨shy¨ appears that she is also willing to now say ¨this is who I am,¨ (period). I like that part.

On the International Scene I believe President Obama has done a notable job in restoring our National Character abroad...he has also, by just being born who he is, allowed us, the citizens of the U.S., to see just how vile, ignorant and prejudiced our countrymen/women can be (LGBT knew it all along)...there is much work ahead for sick people on the lam to gain on sanity and emotionally and spiritually healthy/mature people to ¨leave the porch light on¨...because, dear friend, there is no place for them to go (as they attempt to take us with them) but DOWN! The worst is yet to come...btw, ++Rowan Williams is a wreckless dunderhead and ought resign!

susan s. said...

Right on the button. It seems to me that just applying logic would help Obama a lot. The constant need to have 'bipartisanship' is a puzzlement to me.

I know that ++Katharine was a disappointment to you in the beginning, but she realized relatively soon that no matter what TEC did, appeasement of the right(including in my mind's eye anyway, the ABC) was not the way to go because they will never be happy. Her strength is shining thru in her calm demeanor.

Country Living said...

About the President: I have a feeling that when these guys arrive in the White House (the exception being Bush II and his phalanx of administration hangers-on), they are greeted with stuff that is both eye-opening and bone-chilling, and they'd better make friends with previous Presidents fast if they want to survive at all. Mr. Obama believes, I think, in "If you keep your head when all about you are losing theirs," and that he he keeps himself rational & reasonable, people will respond reasonably and rationally (it's the rule, after all, at the U of C, and probably at Harvard & Columbia, too. Well, maybe not Columbia--I was around in the '60s). That leaves the politics to his staff, and I fear some of them are not up to the challenge. I only pray that the Left will understand the implications of their dropping out, and will step up to the ballot anyway.

As for the PB, she has, indeed, shown herself to be a true Christian leader. By the end, I think we will mark her a Renewer of the Church.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

I can only agree with you all!