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
There’s been a lot of coverage of the effort to recall Gavin Newsom, but not much analysis of other recall drives in the state, and why they are so numerous. I tried to remedy that at New York:
Like a slow-motion riot, the effort to force California governor Gavin Newsom into a special recall election has dominated political headlines in the Golden State for months. Facilitated by a conservative judge’s decision to give petition-gatherers a 120-day extension in the time allowed to reach the required 1,495,709 signatures needed to trigger a recall, the recall drive succeeded, though the date of the special election (probably in November) will be determined after a few more legal requirements in the process have been satisfied.
But as the Los Angeles Times reports, Newsom is hardly the only target of 2021 recall drives in California:
“During the first five months of 2021, active recall efforts — those in which an official step has been taken — have targeted at least 68 local officials in California, according to a Times analysis. The total has already surpassed the number of local recall attempts seen during four of the last five years in California.”
Most of the targets are Democrats, and COVID-19 restrictions are the most important motivator — however, this recall fever has struck both big cities and rural counties, and a wide range of discontents are at play. Of course, these factors are not unique to California. Here’s why recalls have become so popular in this particular state.
Recalling elected officials in California is relatively easy
Nineteen states provide for the recall of state elected officials, alongside 30 states that allow local jurisdictions to provide for their own recall elections. Rules vary widely, but California is distinctive in that it (a) does not require any particular rationale for demanding a recall, and (b) has among the lowest thresholds for triggering recall elections. The Newsom recall, for example, needed validated signatures from 12 percent of the number of voters in the last election for the office in question. In Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin, the threshold is 25 percent of voters in the last election. Some states link the threshold to the percentage of registered voters (e.g., Montana, which requires signatures of 10 percent of the number of registered voters in the last election for the office).
The thresholds for recall of local elected officials vary in California according to the size of the jurisdiction, but they are quite low (10 percent of registered voters) for the larger cities and counties, and some are provided for in local government charters that are not subject to state law.
Legal requirements aside, there is a political culture in California encouraging recall drives that assumed a whole new prominence after the successful effort to remove Governor Gray Davis from office in 2003. At any given movement, there are recall petitions circulating aimed at a large number of elected officials, even though most never succeed.
The backlash against COVID-19 restrictions in California was especially intense and not limited to conservatives
For various reasons, including often-clumsy state management of public-health policies and confusing local rules, the backlash against pandemic-related restrictions in California seems to have been unusually intense. One prominent recall target, Ventura County supervisor Linda Parks, has galvanized a lot of local frustrations, notes the Times:
“’People were sitting at home and feeling impotent,’ said longtime Thousand Oaks resident and retired high school receptionist Karen Meyer. Meyer now often spends weekends at a small folding table in the parking lot of a local Target or DMV, asking passersby if they’d like to sign petitions to recall Parks in Ventura County.
“The recall organizer faulted her county supervisor for hewing too closely to Newsom’s pandemic directives and not doing enough to save local businesses.”
Recall fever in California may have also been specifically fueled by Newsom’s terrible mistake in attending a maskless indoor party for a prominent donor and lobbyist at one of the state’s most exclusive restaurants (the Napa Valley’s French Laundry). This contributed to perceptions that elected officials administering pandemic restrictions were hypocrites who were cavalier about damaging the livelihoods of barbers and hairdressers and small businesses, and the freedom to worship of churchgoers — complaints not limited to members of any party or ideology. And the particularly strong and ideologically diffuse anti-vaxxer movement in California likely strengthened the backlash against the entire anti-COVID-19 effort.
But as in other parts of the country, anger at school boards for lengthy shutdowns of in-person instruction transcended party and ideological groupings, with the California teachers unions getting blamed for particularly inflexible state and local rules. The likely successful effort to force recall elections for three members of the local school board in ultraliberal San Francisco cannot be explained as a Republican or conservative gambit; even progressive voters and elected officials objected to the board’s focus on renaming schools to get rid of marginally objective names rather than reopening them when possible.
California’s GOP sees recalls as its best shot at fighting an overwhelming Democratic advantage
While all the recalls cannot be dismissed (as many Democrats have tried to do) as GOP or right-wing stunts, there is no question that California’s very weak Republican Party has relied on this type of ballot “protest” more than its counterparts in states that aren’t as dark blue. Republicans haven’t won a statewide election in California since 2006. Democrats hold and show no signs of losing supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature. And traditional Republican strongholds like Orange County are now intense battlegrounds (won by Democrats in 2018, and partially won back by Republicans in 2020, in very close elections).
How ballot-based issue protests and recalls work together for California Republicans was illustrated by the successful 2018 recall aimed at Orange County Democratic state senator Josh Newman for voting in favor of the same gas tax increase that Republicans were trying to repeal via a statewide ballot initiative. The recall succeeded while the initiative failed, and Newman won the seat back in 2020. But linking the pol to the grievance was probably a good idea.
Republicans in California are currently dramatizing their law-and-order messages by attacking allegedly weak-on-crime elected officials. In California, two particular objects of conservative ire, San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin and Los Angeles district attorney George Gascon, are facing recall efforts. How else can Republicans spend their time in such overwhelmingly pro-Democratic jurisdictions?
In the suburban San Diego city of Carlsbad, an even more basic partisan and ideological fight is under way as right-wing talk-radio personality Carl DeMaio (who is also active in the Newsom recall effort) is leading a recall drive aimed at city councilwoman Cori Schumacher, a former professional surfing celebrity being targeted for a variety of ideological sins. She is also the object of ire for a particularly unhappy and influential group of restaurant owners. This particular campaign shows how COVID-19 grievances are merging with other, and sometimes unrelated, complaints to fuel a pretty clearly conservative purge effort aimed at a Democratic elected official in contested turf.
But will any of these recall efforts succeed?
Probably some will, though the big one, against Newsom, is likely to fail so long as public-health and economic conditions continue to improve and Democrats stay united in supporting him. Some Republican recall backers may yet regret putting so many eggs in the recall basket, and some voters angry about lockdowns and school closings may get over it. But in California, a recall drive is never more than a shout away.