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
After reading a few days worth of carping about Joe Biden’s performance, I decided enough’s enough and responded at New York:
Joe Biden has been president of the United States for 43 days. He inherited power from a predecessor who was trying to overturn the 2020 election results via insurrection just two weeks before Inaugural Day, and whose appointees refused the kind of routine transition cooperation other administrations took for granted. His party has a four-vote margin of control in the House, and only controls the Senate via the vice presidential tie-breaking vote (along with a power-sharing arrangement with Republicans). Democratic control of the Senate was not assured until the wee hours of January 6 when the results of the Georgia runoff were clear. Biden took office in the midst of a COVID-19 winter surge, a national crisis over vaccine distribution, and flagging economic indicators.
Biden named all his major appointees well before taking office, and as recommended by every expert, pushed for early confirmation of his national security team, which he quickly secured. After some preliminary discussions with Republicans that demonstrated no real possibility of GOP support for anything like the emergency $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and stimulus package he had promised, and noting the votes weren’t there in the Senate for significant filibuster reform, Biden took the only avenue open to him. He instructed his congressional allies to pursue the budget reconciliation vehicle to enact his COVID package, with the goal of enacting it by mid-March, when federal supplemental unemployment insurance would run out. Going the reconciliation route meant exposing the package to scrutiny by the Senate parliamentarian
,It also virtually guaranteed total opposition from congressional Republicans, which in turn meant Senate Democratic unanimity would be essential.
The House passed the massive and complex reconciliation bill on February 27, right on schedule, with just two Democratic defections, around the same time as the Senate parliamentarian, to no one’s great surprise, deemed a $15 minimum wage provision (already opposed by two Senate Democrats) out of bounds for reconciliation. The Senate is moving ahead with a modified reconciliation bill, and the confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet is chugging ahead slowly but steadily. Like every recent president, he’s had to withdraw at least one nominee – in his case Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget, though the administration’s pick for deputy OMB director is winning bipartisan praise and may be substituted smoothly for Tanden.
Add in his efforts to goose vaccine distribution — which has more than doubled since he took office — and any fair assessment of Biden’s first 43 days should be very positive. But the man is currently being beset by criticism from multiple directions. Republicans, of course, have united in denouncing Biden’s refusal to surrender his agenda in order to secure bipartisan “unity” as a sign that he’s indeed the radical socialist – or perhaps the stooge of radical socialists – that Donald Trump always said he was. Progressives are incensed by what happened on the minimum wage, though it was very predictable. And media critics are treating his confirmation record as a rolling disaster rather than a mild annoyance, given the context of a federal executive branch that was all but running itself for much of the last four years.
To be clear, I found fault with Biden’s presidential candidacy early and often. I didn’t vote for him in California’s 2020 primary. I worried a lot about Biden’s fetish for bipartisanship. I support a $15 minimum wage, and as a former Senate employee, have minimal respect for the upper chamber’s self-important traditions. But c’mon: what, specifically, is the alternative path he could have pursued the last 43 days? Republican criticism is not worthy of any serious attention: the GOP is playing the same old tapes it recorded in 2009 when Barack Obama (and his sidekick Biden) spent far too much time chasing Republican senators around Washington in search of compromises they never intended to make. While they are entitled to oppose Biden’s agenda, they are not entitled to kill it.
Progressive criticism of Biden feels formulaic. Years and years of investment in the rhetoric of the eternal “fight” and the belief that outrage shapes outcomes in politics and government have led to the habit of seeing anything other than total subscription to the left’s views as a sell-out. Yes, Kamala Harris could theoretically overrule the Senate parliamentarian on the minimum wage issue, but to what end? So long as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema oppose the $15 minimum wage, any Harris power play could easily be countered by a successful Republican amendment to strike the language in question, and perhaps other items as well. And if the idea is to play chicken with dissident Democrats over the fate of the entire reconciliation bill, is a $15 minimum wage really worth risking a $1.9 trillion package absolutely stuffed with subsidies for struggling low-income Americans? Are Fight for 15 hardliners perhaps conflating ends and means here?
Media carping about Biden’s legislative record so far is frankly just ridiculous. Presumably writing about the obscure and complicated details of reconciliation bills is hard and unexciting work that readers may find uninteresting, while treating Tanden’s travails as an existential crisis for the Biden administration provides drama, but isn’t at all true. The reality is that Biden’s Cabinet nominees are rolling through the Senate with strong confirmation votes (all but one received at least 64 votes), despite a steadily more partisan atmosphere for confirmations in recent presidencies. The COVID-19 bill is actually getting through Congress at a breakneck pace despite its unprecedented size and complexity. Trump’s first reconciliation bill (which was principally aimed at repealing Obamacare) didn’t pass the House until May 4, 2017, and never got through the Senate. Yes, Obama got a stimulus bill through Congress in February 2009, but it was less than half the size, much simpler, and more to the point, there were 59 Senate Democrats in office when it passed, which meant he didn’t even have to use reconciliation.
There’s really no exact precedent for Biden’s situation, particularly given the atmosphere of partisanship in Washington and the whole country right now, and the narrow window he and his party possess – in terms of political capital and time – to get important things done. He should not be judged on any one legislative provision or any one Cabinet nomination. So far the wins far outweigh the losses and omissions. Give the 46th president a break.