Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Catholics on the Ball

Catholic Charities USA have published what I think is a really solid policy paper on poverty. It provides some good (although brief) biblical background [Protestants can skip the part about the encyclicals :)] , some great statistical framing about poverty in America, and then some policy suggestions. Especially strong parts of the paper are justifications for the role of government (a response to all the conservatives who insist on primarily private solutions) and some good analysis about what the US is currently doing for poverty (good and bad) and how we stack up against other industrialized nations.

It is a great resource, whether one is just starting to think about the issue of poverty or one is a seasoned veteran on the issue. Check it out:


Those "Gays" Are At It Again

Maybe I am just too far removed from my conservative upbringing, but headlines from groups like Focus on the Family never cease to amaze me with their audacity. This morning, their primary article reads, "Civil Unions Not Enough for New Jersey Gays." I am confounded... flabbergasted... upset. Why wouldn't civil unions not be enough? We aren't talking about people from another planet with an entirely different values system... they are human beings, and it make perfect sense that they'd want to get married. Why would it make any less sense for "gays" to want to get married than anyone else? For such a pro-marriage group, I'd think they should applaud anyone who wants to fight for marriage (even if, at the end of the day, Focus wants to deny them that right). It feels like saying "Blacks Want More Than Separate But Equal," as if they should have been satisfied with the bone that whites in power tossed them. I am glad that Focus offends me with stuff like this, at least in the sense that my sensibilities have gotten to that place. So again, Focus wages war on a minority group who is simply fighting for the same legal rights as everyone else. And expectedly, you'll find it cloaked in propaganda like "redefinition of marriage," "the destruction of marriage," and "gays do not understand what marriage is." Causes can exist without a god, but never without a devil. I am so tired of the vilification of gays as a political and fund raising tool and this casting of them as practically animal for simply wanting the same thing that groups like Focus want everyone to want - a monogamous, committed union. Such a move by New Jersey, if it ever happens, is no threat to Focus or their monogamous marriages (but try convincing them of that). As I've written before on this blog, I think they should concern themselves with other plagues on the family - divorce, poverty, poor sex education, health care, etc. I think Focus could care less that the family unit in America is crumbling, or at least, that's what I gather from their lack of attention to those issues that truly affect MOST American families. All I see from them is anti-gay rhetoric, hardlines on abortion, and stem cell stuff. That isn't my idea of a true pro-family agenda. Leave it to Focus to be silent on those issues while trying to turn people away from the very institution they are trying to promote. I am glad that civil unions are not enough for "gays" - it shouldn't be. They deserve the same rights under the law as straight couples. Then leave the churches to decide which unions "God" will honor.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Pick Your Poison: Unpolished Candor or Spin Doctored Political Correctness?

Almost before he has the chance to get started, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Joseph Biden shot himself in the rhetorical foot with the following remarks in an interview with The New York Observer:

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. "

It is clear that this was a colossal blunder and - besides being patently false - reveals some underlying assumptions that - frankly - few of us can claim freedom from. Most of the commentary I've seen focuses on how Biden is off-base and how the rest of us should examine our own hearts for prejudice and stereotypes, even the most "progressive" among us.

I'd like to offer another angle on this issue, and that regards the transparency of our politicians in general. Simply, I think we as the public are hypocrites. We communicate a double standard to our candidates. On one hand, we want transparency, humility, and humanity. For example, we criticize Bush for a lack of humility in not admitting forthrightly that he has ever been wrong in his policies. We also complain that every glimpse of a candidate we see is so heavily spin doctored, edited, and screened that we never know if or when we are catching sight of the real person.

But then, from the other side of our mouth, we crucify politicians when they go on their own and subsequently make a mistake (or are even guilty of inarticulate phrasing). Sen. Kerry has already seen his possible '08 run torpedoed by one poorly executed joke, and now Biden - a credible candidate in many people's eyes - looks to face an even steeper uphill battle for saying something that - although poorly put - probably makes him much more like the average person than less.

We can't have it both ways. Do we want the real people, who will sometimes be messily human in their thinking, their logic, their imprecise wording, their prejudice and stereotypes, and their sinfulness (to use a "churchy" word)? Or do we want sound bytes and scripted appearances that are so heavily mediated by a staff of spin doctors that the public appearances may as well be made by their press secretaries or even robots? Do we demand transparency and perfection at the same time? Do we judge Biden on a career record that shows support of communities of color, or do we cross off his civil service career for one boneheaded comment?

[A parallel in the church is wanting transparency in our leaders, then thinking less of them (or running them off altogether) when they bear their hearts and show us that they are human and don't float 3 feet off the ground at all times.]

In the end, this doesn't mean we can't criticize Biden and even choose to withhold support from someone we feel does not represent the best of our values. But if we want to see the candidates as they really are, then we should be prepared for real, live humans to emerge from behind the veil of our media culture.