Last week, playing off both the Edwards Blogger kerfuffle and Mitt Romney’s presidential launch, Atrios spurred a bit of blogospheric controversy with a series of posts on religion in the public square.His basic argument, with which I basically agree, is that once “people of faith” inject their religious views into public discourse, the content of those views is fair game for commentary, dissent and even mockery, though mockery may be politically inadvisable if you are, say, involved in a presidential campaign.Romney’s Mormon Problem provides the perfect foil for Atrios’ secondary point, which is that the tendency of political observers to divide Americans into “believers” and “unbelievers,” or on occasion, between “Christians” or “Judeo-Christians” and everybody else, is intellectually dishonest because it (a) obliterates the very meaningful differences in metaphysical, moral and political viewpoints within the broad “believers” category and virtually every subcategory, and (b) disrespects the metaphyiscal, moral and political viewpoints of people who subscribe to unconventional religions or no religion at all.On Atrios’ first point–presumably motivated by the talk of Amanda Marcotte’s “offensive” blog posts about the Virgin Birth and so forth–I would offer one important qualifier to his general take: mocking the religious underpinnings of some political position is one thing; denying their sincerity is another.Here’s how the regression from mockery of politics to mockery of religion to mockery of religious sincerity tends to work: Some people hold abhorrent political positions that they justify with religious principles you happen to consider a bunch of atavistic Hooey. You attack the positions on their dubious merits. You then go over the brink and attack the underyling Hooey. But since you think it’s Hooey, you go on to suggest that the Hooey, being Hooey, is just a mask for very different motives (e.g., misogyny) that can be deplored without discussion of religion. Not being a regular consumer of Amanda Marcotte’s blogging at Pandagon, I can’t say for sure this is her pattern, but it is common in criticisms of religious-based opposition to equal rights for women and/or gays and lesbians.Now this habit of dismissing the explicit underyling principles of political positions is hardly limited to irreligious people. Its mirror image is the belief of many “people of faith” that atheists and agnostics haven’t reached their metaphysical stance through thoughtful reflection or observation, but are instead motivated by moral or intellectual laziness, or are simply slaves of some all-powerful Secular Zeitgeist.Moreover, claiming hidden motives is a regular stock-in-trade in intra-religious controversy. Lord knows I have on more than one occasion suggested that Christian Right leaders have sold out their ministries for a mess of secular pottage, and have wilfully and illegitimately conflated cultural conservatism with the Gospel.But maybe that’s the lesson here: challenging the sincerity of religion- (or for that matter, atheist-) based political positions is work best left to those who share the ostensible world-view of the challengees. Or, to be more pointed about it, if you think Christianity (and/or its central tenet, the Incarnation) is Hooey, then you might want to defer to Hooeyites in making the claim that Hooeyite-based opposition to abortion, birth control, or equal rights reflects misogyny rather than sincere Hooey.And that, of course, leads me to Atrios’ secondary and most politically relevant argument: the artificial suppression, at least in MSM discourse, of intra-Christian disagreements over doctrine and their political implications.There are plenty of historical reasons for the contemporary muting of doctrinal differences in this country. Most obviously, the constitutional and civic traditions–and the religious diversity–of the United States have forced a remission of the more Triumphalist claims of various Christian theologies. And there’s been something of a convergence in theology itself, at least in terms of the controversies that used to lead Christians to repress and kill each other in Europe. Catholicism abandoned its no-salvation-outside-Rome position during Vatican II, and more recently, modified positions on Limbo-and-Purgatory, and on Justification-by-Faith-Alone, that were among the touchstones of the original Reformation. Actual, Sunday-to-Sunday, American Catholic worship is very difficult to distinguish from Episcopal or Lutheran worship, and in some cases, Methodist and Presbyterian worship.And among Protestants, theological (in the sense of formal and liturgical differences) have declined, with the sole and crucial exception of Biblical Infallibility (usually defined by Protestant Fundamentalists as demanding the subjugation of women and gays), and the cultural and political differences that divide dictates.To sum it all up, few Christians these days dissent from the Nicene Creed; or worry a lot about the pagan origins of church seasons; or fight about the precise nature of the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But they do fight a lot about the cultural and political implications of their common faith, and particularly about the Bible, and these fights should be made explictly religious fights.So Atrios’ call for an open season of everybody’s religious or irreligious beliefs in politics is spot-on. And Mitt Romney’s candidacy does indeed bring this issue to a head. Mitt would like to draw a line between “unbelievers” and “believers” in politics in order to avoid examination of the specific nature of his own beliefs, which many “believers” would find as abhorrent as those of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews or even atheists.But as Atrios suggests, you can’t have it both ways. If you want credit for your “belief,” you must let your “beliefs” stand the test of scrutiny.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
With the clock running down and real problems emerging on the legislative front, the president is beginning to meet with key congressional Democrats representing different factions. At New York I took a shot at suggesting what he needs to get them to understand:
We have breathlessly been told by all the Beltway insider outlets that Joe Biden has summoned various congressional Democrats to the White House in hopes of saving his 2021 legislative agenda, which is on the brink of disaster thanks to the irreconcilable demands of competing factions. For once, the eternal “Democrats in disarray” narrative is accurate. On September 27, the House is scheduled to vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, a vote rebellious House “centrists” extorted from Speaker Nancy Pelosi in order to get the votes for a must-pass budget resolution. They are quietly backed by rebellious Senate centrists. Multiple House progressives, who have their own cheering gallery in the Senate, are promising to kill the infrastructure bill if it comes up before the fiscal year 2022 budget reconciliation bill is enacted, which won’t happen for weeks. The one sure thing is that if this transpires, House Republicans will make certain there are not enough votes for the bill in their ranks to save it.
This is a BFD!
Biden should find some way to recycle his famous words to Obama about Obamacare.
The success or failure of the governing coalition Democrats managed to secure in 2020 (and in those two crucial Senate runoffs in 2021) is about to be determined by what happens in the next few days and weeks. If they fail, there will be no tomorrow, no Plan B. Next year will be a lot like 2010, when Democrats lost the ability to pass legislation against Republican obstruction and then got clobbered at the polls. It took them eight years to recover from that debacle. Another one could be staring them in the face.
Biden remembers that, and so do many Hill veterans. He needs to impress on them that this is no time to listen to hammerheaded pollsters or greedy donors or Twitter activists. Like it or not, Biden has defined the paired infrastructure and reconciliation bills as central to his presidential legacy and to his party’s case for maintaining power. He needs to make every Democrat tempted to sabotage either bill feel that his failure would be theirs as well, whether or not they lose their own seats in 2022, which some undoubtedly will if the Biden agenda implodes.
The posturing needs to stop
Obviously, the president must acknowledge and show respect for the fact that legitimate differences of opinion exist in his big-tent party. But lawmakers posturing and grandstanding in order to get a shout-out at Politico as big-time wheeler-dealers are not legitimate or worthy of respect. Biden needs to challenge congressional Democrats very directly on this: Let’s go a week without any name other than mine and Nancy’s and Chuck’s appearing in the national political media. If they are questioned about intra-Democratic negotiations, they should refuse comment, go vague, or say “watch and learn.”
Why is this important? Because the centrist-progressive (and on some issues House-Senate) dynamics are reciprocal and virtually guarantee escalation. A ceasefire in factional hostilities requires some peace and quiet.
Public demands, threats, and hostage taking must end instantly
Whether it’s centrists placing some arbitrary “cap” on the size of a reconciliation bill they can accept or progressives making their votes for reconciliation contingent on inclusion of this or that priority, the proliferation of absolute and totally irreconcilable demands is what has really brought congressional Democrats to the brink of disaster.
Biden needs to show Democrats he understands how and why this is happening: It’s mostly the result of the extremely small margin of control in both Houses — which in fact, objectively speaking, gives every senator and every group of a few House members the power to destroy their party’s agenda. In the past, if that had happened, leaders might have been able to offset intraparty hostage taking by securing votes from the opposition. That’s just not practicable in the current environment. Even on the so-called bipartisan infrastructure bill, Republicans are now making it clear they would love to see it go down to defeat and will work to produce that outcome.
But while expressing empathy for the temptations facing individual members, Biden has to insist that the public demands and threats stop right now and promise with whatever cold anger he can muster that there will be real consequences for those who go rogue at this sensitive moment. Successfully negotiating the size and shape of the reconciliation bill, for example, is going to be excruciatingly hard if the landscape is constantly shifting because Problem-Solver X or Progressive Caucus Y has laid down some personal marker through a press release or a staff leak.
There’s one plan, and we’re all sticking to it
With the clock running down on the endgame for the 2021 legislative saga, Biden and his closest congressional allies really need to adopt a strategy and demand universal support for it right now, even if that means some backtracking by congressional factions. If the infrastructure bill is going to be salvaged, Biden has to bluntly tell progressives the days of “linkage” between reconciliation and infrastructure are now over: The infrastructure bill will be on the House floor next week and it has to pass. But at the same time, Biden needs to tell centrists that while he and Pelosi and Schumer will listen to everyone’s point of view on reconciliation, he needs commitments of support now for the final product, and to threaten permanent ostracism by the entire federal government (within the limits of the law) for anyone who refuses to comply.
In asking Democratic factions and individual members to give up their leverage over one another, Biden will supply his own leverage to keep the party united. It’s probably the only thing, at this point, that will work. And what does the president have to lose in making some exceptional promises and threats of his own? He’s a 78-year-old man who has spent nearly a half-century putting himself in the position to enact the kind of legislative package that is at stake right now. If he loses it, his presidency will at best be hollow and short, and his party will go into the wilderness. Only he can stop that from happening.