Trumpeting tired, tea-party rhetoric at the GOP Presidential Debate this week, the candidates responded to a question about foreign aid by almost universally across the line declaring they would severely cut or even eliminate the foreign assistance budget to save money. (That such funds make up less than 1% of the federal budget went unmentioned).
Tapping into conservative suspicions about corruption and waste in foreign governments and international institutions, the candidates painted all aid with a broad brush to downplay the real harm such cuts to life-saving programs would cause. But this generalization disguises an important reality that U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah spoke to Tuesday–that many of these funds go to faith-based organizations like World Relief and Catholic Relief Services that help carry out the agency’s mission. By threatening to demolish foreign assistance, GOP candidates are actually slashing the budgets of dozens of these faith-based organizations, severely limiting their ability to provide assistance to the world’s most vulnerable people.
These organizations generally enjoy broad support from across the political spectrum, including among religious conservatives. I’m guessing candidates would likely be less likely to boast about their plans to cut aid if they had to be honest about the actual people and programs such reductions would impact.
Unfortunately, Wednesday’s debate just gave us the same tired talking points and deficit peacocking we’ve seen before on this issue–all while people continue to suffer in places like famine-stricken Somalia. As other nations shrink their own foreign assistance budgets the need for real U.S. leadership on this issue is more important than ever. We can do better than this.
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Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate in Nevada featured another installment of the highly anticipated audience-cheers-something-inappropriate series.
This week, the consensus seems to be that the winner is applause for Herman Cain responding to a question about #OccupyWallStreet by reiterating his “unemployed people have only themselves to blame” commentary:
COOPER: “Herman Cain, I’ve got to ask you — two weeks ago, you said, `Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job, and you’re not rich, blame yourself.’ That was two weeks ago. The movement has grown. Do you still say that?” [APPLAUSE]
CAIN: Yes I do still say that. [LOUDER APPLAUSE AND CHEERS]
Greg Sargent, Steve Benen, and Jonathan Bernstein have already ably discussed this moment in depth. My sense here is that the audience isn’t cheering in support of Cain’s statement as much as they’re reacting against the one it implicitly rebuts. At first glance, the observation that many people are unemployed by no fault of their own seems like an uncontroversial point, a self-evident reality during a serious economic downturn. The problem is that it threatens a core conservative narrative–the belief that people get what they deserve.
Crystallized by an unwavering faith in the free market, this belief in an inherently just economy provides the moral framework for almost every conservative economic policy. In this world, material success is exclusively the result of hard work and ingenuity while poverty and unemployment are signs of individual moral deficits. It appears most prominently in the increasingly popular “makers vs. takers” and “job creators vs. moochers” language and explains the initially confusing phenomena of working- and middle-class conservatives passionately defending policies that only benefit the wealthiest few.
In order for this worldview to remain intact, #occupywallstreet must be the lashing out of envious losers rather than a genuine reflection of economic injustice. To admit that the market has left behind wide swaths of Americans who played by the rules and don’t deserve this suffering is to knock down the crucial link in this entire house of cards.
I think what we’re seeing now is the panicked anxiety of a movement desperate to preserve this fantasy in spite of the contradictory evidence piling up around them. The popular embrace of economic denialism, adoption of apocryphal history about the financial crisis, and even celebration their own economic suffering all strike me as elaborate intellectual defense mechanisms.
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One of the biggest headlines coming out of last weekend’s Values Voter Summit, the annual Religious Right conference hosted by the Family Research Council, was Rev. Robert Jeffress’s attack on Governor Romney’s religion. Jeffress, a conservative Texas pastor, came out in support of Governor Perry for the GOP nomination and said Governor Romney was a member of a “cult.”
Romney, a Mormon, responded by saying:
“I just don’t believe that kind of divisiveness based on religion has a place in this country. I would call on Gov. Perry to repudiate the sentiment and the remark made by that pastor.”
At Tuesday’s debate, Perry said he “didn’t agree with that individual’s statement” and went on:
“Our founding fathers truly understood and had an understanding of freedom of religion. We also are a country that is free to express our opinions. That individual expressed an opinion. I didn’t agree with it, Mitt, and I said so. But the fact is, Americans understand faith. And what they’ve lost faith in is the current resident of the White House.”
Though it was good of Perry to separate himself from this controversial statement, his coded reference to Americans “understanding faith” seems like a bit of a caveat to his ostensible repudiation of Jeffress’ inflammatory remarks.
Rev. Steven D. Martin, executive director of The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, talked in more depth on this issue on U Need 2 Know radio, a progressive show based in Columbia, SC.
In the interview (available here), Martin points out the danger of Jeffress’ assault on religious freedom:
“Religious freedom and diversity of this country for last 200 and some odd years that has protected religious conservatives and evangelicals. If we become intolerant of other people we may not necessarily agree with about religious positions, it puts us in danger and the democracy at risk.”
The whole interview is worth a listen, especially because Martin lays out some guidelines about why evangelicals (and all Americans) should be incredibly nervous about attempts to impose religious litmus tests or judge candidates based solely or primarily on their religious affiliation.
As Amy Sullivan of TIME has pointed out in her column and in a segment for NPR, candidates’ religious views should only be brought into consideration where there is clear policy relevance. Jeffress’s comments–specifically attacking the theological side of Romney’s faith–clearly didn’t meet this standard.
Gov. Perry has an obligation to genuinely distance himself from this problematic attacks on Romney. An email exchange obtained by The Daily Beast this week suggests Jeffress’s remarks weren’t just a fluke. The emails “show an influential evangelical activist with close ties to the Perry campaign stressing the political importance of ‘juxtaposing traditional Christianity to the false God of Mormonism,’ and calling for a ‘clarion call to Evangelical pastors and pews’ that will be “the key to the primary” for Perry.”
Perry would do best to disassociate himself from anyone willing to attack another person’s faith for political gain.
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Herman Cain, the GOP Presidential candidate enjoying a foray in the limelight while currently leading the polls, waded into the immigration debate this weekend with an outrageous statement:
“When I’m in charge of the fence, we going to have a fence. It’s going to be 20 feet high. It’s going to have barbed wire on the top. It’s going to be electrocuted, electrified. And there’s going to be a sign on the other side that says it will kill you.”
After widepsread criticism, Cain has since said he was joking, but he doesn’t appear to be fully backing down (he said he apologized for “offending anyone”– a classic political non-apology). And he is even getting support from controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio for his comments.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus released a statement yesterday condemning these remarks, according to The Hill:
“Words have consequences, both in shaping ideas and inspiring actions. Whether or not he made his comments in jest, Mr. Cain’s words show a lack of understanding of the immigration issues our country is facing and a staggering lack of sensitivity,” Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) said in a statement. “Surely, Mr. Cain understands the duty that candidates have to offer responsible policy proposals.”
People of faith have a clear responsibility to treat all human beings with dignity and respect. Even in jest, Cain’s comments were an extreme departure from shared religious values of compassion and justice. As a pastor himself, he ought to reconsider his inhumane approach to the issue of immigration and fully apologize for his comments.
Photo credit: Associated Press
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bernardplier at Daily Kos found a gem of an article from Herman Cain’s columnist days at Red State. In it Cain boasts about how Jesus was the “perfect conservative:”
He helped the poor without one government program. He healed the sick without a government health care system. He feed the hungry without food stamps. And everywhere He went, it turned into a rally, attracting large crowds, and giving them hope, encouragement and inspiration.
For three years He was unemployed, and never collected an unemployment check. Nevertheless, he completed all the work He needed to get done. He didn’t travel by private jet. He walked and sailed, and sometimes traveled on a donkey.
While these examples are self-evidently silly, the kicker is Cain’s summation of Jesus’s message:
For over 2,000 years the world has tried hard to erase the memory of the perfect conservative, and His principles of compassion, caring and common sense.
Now Herman Cain is a minister, and I only had eighteen years of religious education, but I’m pretty sure Jesus’s principles were anything but common sense. In fact, in my recollection, they were the complete opposite. The story of the Gospel is Jesus openly challenging the prevailing norms, social structures, and power dynamics of his day and turning them on their heads with a radical message of humility, non-violence, selflessness and faith in the seemingly impossible.
Common sense Jesus, in contrast, would be a pretty uninspiring guy:
Check out commonsensejesus.tumblr.com for more.
H/T Think Progress
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