The Mean Season

The 2006 Election

When we meet God, when we see Jesus, He will be wholly unconcerned about all the hard work you did defeating that ballot initiative or getting Senator Bigot elected. Our God will want to know how efficiently we spent our time here reaching souls for Christ, not how hard we worked to make our life here a Capra-esque fantasy whitewash. After all, at the end of the day, we’re only making our bed in a burning building.

Senator Tim Johnson

(D-South Dakota), a man many of us have never heard of, continues to make “significant improvement” after brain surgery and his prognosis is very good. Which likely disappoints many Republicans and, for that matter, many conservative church pastors still reeling from the Democrats’ takeover of Congress in the recent election. And that is precisely how mean this political season is: both liberal and conservative vultures circling the hospital room of a man neither could have cared much about before his stroke. South Dakota’s Republican governor, Mike Rounds, would appoint a replacement if Johnson’s seat were vacated by his death or resignation. A Republican appointee would create a 50-50 tie and effectively allow the GOP to retain Senate control because of Vice President Dick Cheney’s tie-breaking vote. Thus, Johnson is big news and high stakes for the soulless goblins on either side of the political divide, as the bare-knuckle Hatfield and McCoys feud moves to another level.

The recent midterm elections, where the American people, including many conservative groups, finally rose from their collective comas and voted many Republicans out of office, is another misdirect as I don’t think Democrats deserve power. I think they deserve what they’ve had these past six years—nothing. Because they don’t have a single idea among them, and they have no voice beyond that of elder statesman Bill Clinton or way-too-soon Barack Obama. The Democrats have no national identity, for which we need to blame DNC chair Howard Dean, whose own blowhard antics cost him his runaway maverick lead in 2004 (and thank God for that. I mean, who could even imagine, now, “President Dean?!”).

The fact is, the Democrats have no vision. President Bush (well, actually, Karl Rove) had a vision. It was a loony tunes simpleton’s vision, the Slacker Vision of a lazy student who has no respect for the lessons of history, but at least he had a vision, one he could (stumblingly) articulate. The Democrats have not, in more than a decade, had an idea about anything. Voting them back into power may have provided cheap visceral thrill to the millions of equally ideologically bankrupt people who’d kept this president’s failed policies going, but, the truth is, these voters are just making the same mistake over again—voting their emotion over their intellect. It’s not that we need to vote the Republicans out of power, it’s that we need to vote *these* Republicans out of power. I’m not sure I want the Democrats running things; I mainly wanted *different* Republicans.

The fruits of this cutthroat political season are these: the president is holding steady in his bunker, still refusing to change course in Iraq while desperately looking for a graceful way to do exactly that. With the clock ticking, both politically and militarily, the president realizes he must, finally, find some real options in Iraq before one or both of these things happen: (1) some faction in Iraq topples the Vichy puppet government Bush installed there, officially landing Iraq in a civil war, or (2) Congress finds the sine to cut off funding, forcing the president to withdraw. (1) is likely, (2) is not as, again, it would require politicians to place honor above ambition, something no U.S. politician seems capable of doing.

In the wake of the politically devastating yet ultimately toothless report from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, headed by one of Bush’s father’s most trusted advisors, the president has been taking his political lumps. Not real lumps, mind you, considering Congress will never impeach him (again, no honor over ambition; no Republican is going to torch his own political future by voting to impeach Bush; something, ironically, the GOP bullied the utterly spineless Democrats into doing to Bill Clinton). But Bush has, finally, been forced to make some cosmetic changes, rearranging his Titanic deck chairs with the firing of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. But Bush is clearly holding out for a win in Iraq, at this writing sending in a massive troop buildup to “restore order” there.

In spite of global opposition and now severely eroded domestic report, Bush remains bunkered in, rejecting the advice of even trusted friends while still playing the movie in his head where we “win” in Iraq. Starring John Wayne or, perhaps, Ronald Reagan.

The Bush Administration's best strategy for electoral victory in 2006 was to blame everything on, wait for it, President Clinton. which may have come as no surprise to Clinton himself, who seemed to revel in the opportunity the Bushie attack provided for Clinton to unload on the current administration. Venting what seemed like years of pent-up frustration with the current administration, Clinton exploded on Fox News, wiping the smirk off of interviewer Chris Wallace's face while hurling salient points about his anti-terrorism performance in office.

I'll hasten to suggest Clinton's frustration wasn't only about the Republicans but about the toothless Democrats, Clinton's own party having surrendered long ago to the GOP. The Democrats have a practically zero footprint in domestic politics. Clinton's barrage became a rallying cry, awakening the slumbering Dems (somewhat), although none of them could command the gravity or gather the momentum or bombast of the former president.

This on the heels of another GOP sideshow, that of Senator George Allen (R-VA)'s racial slur on the campaign trail. At a campaign stop in Breaks, Virginia, near the Kentucky border, the sunburned Allen blithely launched into what, I suppose, he considered a good-natured hazing of his opponent, Jim Webb's, tracker, twice calling him “Macaca,” a racial slur that can mean, “monkey.” S.R. Sidarth, who was filming the event as a "tracker” for the opposing Jim Webb campaign, is of Indian ancestry, but was born and raised in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Joining The Club That Would Have Me
I am now pastoring at a southern Baptist church, which means, for the most part, I tend to keep my mouth shut about most things political. I find it ironic that I am now a part of the very beast whose naked political aggression got us in this mess in the first place. Increasingly, it seems my role within the ministry is to be the Dr. McCoy to everyone’s Captain Kirk, the guy who says, “He’s dead, Jim,” and gives common-sense advise about the more extreme views of the Christian conservative agenda. My own church is not linked to this online ministry, and most of what we discuss here is not welcomed on my church’s website. And yet, I have absolutely no doubt God has sent me there, placed that ministry in my path and placed me in theirs. It’s difficult to explain how this works but it does indeed work, though it’s a little like installing Chris Rock or, more apt, David Letterman as pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church.

This is the main reason I’ve been too busy to beat up on the Republicans or the president lately, but, praise the Lord, the American people seem to be doing that for me these days. Just a nearly the entirety of the global community failed to support President Bush’s tragically wrongheaded Iraqi invasion, the perhaps most tragic aspect of which is the TRAGEDY is so sad, so utterly un-spinnable by the administration, that nobody—not even me—can gloat I told you so about it. The disaster—Bush’s ham-fisted destabilization of the Middle East, exponential creation of hundreds of thousands of new terrorists who all hate us, and emboldening of extremists like the popular and charasmatic Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and unstable nuts like North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il—is simply beyond the scope of even my worst fears. Bush’s policies, both foreign and domestic, have been the prattling of children, which is to do a grave insult to the intelligence of most children.

The most tragic disaster to hit the U.S. was not 911 or Katrina or even Pearl Harbor or Gettysburg, but was, in fact, the blind support of a disastrously immature, isolated and myopic dilettante president, support fueled by bare-knuckled political greed on the part of Christian conservatives and the evil—that’s what they are—politicians who dance whorishly for them, In the name of Jesus Christ, and in the prosecution of their agendas of school prayer, anti-abortion, anti-gay anything, and a general turn back to the Leave It To Beaver 1950’s—agendas, ironically, Jesus Christ Himself never advocated as Jesus was never politically active in any sense whatsoever—the religious right galvanized the massive base of support needed to elect and re-elect this president and the miserable, spineless, greedy bastards in Congress who rubber-stamped even the most transparently unworkable of the president’s policies.

All of which misses the point that there has been no perceptible movement on any of the Christian right’s key agenda issues, that we have been sold a bill of goods by greedy politicians promising a moral revolution in exchange for our vote, all the while stuffing their pockets with cash, seducing underage Congressional pages, and letting the president do whatever he wanted, including leading the country to the very precipice of economic disaster, political mockery and global scorn.

It is entirely fair to say that not only are we worse off than we were six years ago, when I first warned of President Dubya, not only is the world an exponentially, immeasurably more dangerous place, not only has this president all but guaranteed the most scared gal of millions of jihadists is setting off a nuke in Times Square, but, perhaps the worst fruit of these past six years is America is simply no longer respected globally by anyone. We are seen as barbarians, as fools, as fat and greedy soulless people who routinely and cold-bloodedly dismiss the deaths of perhaps a hundred thousand Iraqis and the descent of a stable Middle Eastern nation into genocidal tribal conflict as we search desperately for a graceful exit that will never present itself. One day we will simply throw our hands up and walk away, turning Iraq over to the next brutal dictator, and stability in the region will be achieved by measuring the heights of stacks of dead bodies—whoever kills the most, wins.

Of Terrorists and Terrorism
Harry Belafonte once remarked that George W. Bush is a terrorist, and white folks just lost their minds. But, the truth is, the president has routinely used terrorist tactics to achieve political change—in precisely the same way the Boogey Man terrorists do. The administration routinely announced heightened terror alerts at politically beneficial moments (such as immediately following John Kerry's announcement of John Edwards as his running mate).

Bush is responsible for, at minimum, ten times as many innocent deaths as Osama bin Laden. I rarely hear anyone doing that math, but it is true. What the military calls “collateral damage,” —innocent lives lost due to military conflict—has now spiraled out of control. This is the, “You break it, you own it,” Pottery Barn rule so tragically and prophetically articulated by former Secretary of State Colin Powell—whom I also hold personally responsible for much of the Iraq tragedy because he could have stopped it single handedly back in February of 2003 when he addressed the U.N. The Bush administration traded on Powell’s impeccable credibility by sending him to the U.N. with a sack of lies and distortions, where Powell completely assignated himself by making the case for the Iraq invasion, a case few at the U.N. bought. How sad for my hero, this wonderful man, to allow himself to be so cruelly used and humiliated that way. He would have sacrificed himself politically but spared the world the agony of the Bush crusade, a sad, dark time when we, as Americans, traded in our values, our very will, in the name of Gimme. Where we prostituted 3,030 911 deaths for political gain, and where we gave a blank check to a man wholly unqualified to lead us and, no matter how tragically wrong every decision he made, we still said nothing, did nothing, still hoping for that gay marriage or stem cell research ban. After all, what’s a few tens of thousand dead Iraqis if we can put a stop to gay men marrying.

Most tragic of all was how broken the political process became after 911; how the Democrats completely lost their spine. I blame the Democrats even more than the Republicans or Bush himself because they abdicated their role within the political process, them too trading in their responsibility and their integrity in the name of political gain. Democrats have been running to the center and even the right ever since President Bill Clinton’s dash toward the center shortly after his election in 1992. Post-911, no Democrat wanted to “look weak,” and so they actually became weak by being bullied into supporting the Iraq invasion—a crime for which I want every Democrat severely punished.

Casualties of War
The season saw more than its fair share of casualties, not the least of which was, hopefully, the church’s naiveté. The notion of Ivory Soap Republican champion of the “moral” right was soundly shattered by the scandal breaking around Representative Mark Foley (R-Florida). A champion of child protective legislation, Foley was the season’s highest-profile loser. As chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, Foley led the charge against child predators, introducing legislation targeting sexual predators and created stricter guidelines for tracking them.

The Mark Foley scandal, which broke in late September 2006, centers on solicitative e-mails and sexually explicit instant messages sent by Mark Foley, a Republican Congressman from Florida, to young men who had formerly served as congressional pages. The scandal has grown to encompass the response of Republican congressional leaders to previous complaints about Foley's contacts with the pages and inconsistencies in the leaders' public statements. There are also allegations that a second Republican Congressman, Jim Kolbe, had improper conduct with at least two youths, a 16-year old page and a recently graduated page.

The scandal led to Foley's resignation from Congress on September 29, 2006. It is believed to have contributed to the Republican Party's loss of control over Congress in the November 7, 2006 election, as well as the end of House Speaker Dennis Hastert's leadership of the House Republicans. Kirk Fordham, chief of staff to Rep. Tom Reynolds and former chief of staff for Foley, also resigned as a result of the scandal.

The questionable conversations, which took place between 1995 and 2005, are under investigation by the FBI and Florida officials for possible criminal violations. The House Ethics Committee is investigating the response of the House Republican leadership and their staff to earlier warnings of Foley's conduct. In early October 2006, two news organizations quoted anonymous former pages saying they had sexual liaisons with Foley after turning 18 and 21.

However, the biggest disaster for the “moral” right was the outing of Ted Haggard, The Colorado Springs black Christian community had been rocked by Benjamin L. Reynolds’s announcement that he is a same-gender loving person. That announcement was itself subsequently overshadowed by the sudden outing and subsequent confession of New Life Community Church Pastor Ted Haggard (right). A national figure as leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, Haggard led the charge against gay marriage and same-sex ballot initiatives and family values (i.e.: anti-gay) legislation before he was outed by an admitted gay prostitute for an alleged two-year affair and drug use, charges Haggard subsequently admitted were at least partially true. In the classic plank-in-your-own-eye lesson of Luke chapter 6, the white Christian community had been shaking its head about Reynolds’s situation just when they themselves were overcome with a much more heinous scandal on a much larger scale, a revelation made all the more ironic to the many members of Reynolds’ own church who had matriculated to New Life because they’d suspected Reynolds was gay. Haggard's outing was admittedly politically motivated, as his accuser hoped to use the bombshell to help a same-sex ballot initiative pass in Colorado (it failed).

House On Fire
Current U.S. House of Representatives Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and incoming Speaker Nancy Peloski are doubtlessly pacing like expectant fathers, hoping for the best of the worst for Senator Johnson, a man it is unlikely either speaker had a lot of contact with. The cruel math of Johnson’s illness underscores how utterly inhumane this poiwer struggle is, and how, at the end of the day, absolutely none of it has anything whatsoever to do with God, with people, with bettering lives. It’s simple about greedy, evil politicians ratting each other out to gain some small political advantage.

Probably the scariest political ads I’ve ever seen were those of a guy named Bob Beauprez, Republican representative from Colorado. Beauprez’s campaign ads were so smarmy, so smug, I was simply aghast that someone within his campaign actually green-lighted them. The ads portrayed an arrogant, smirking Beauprez, in Stetson and jeans, standing next to a horse’s rear end, talking about the nastiness of the political season before proceeding to talk to us like a cop at a traffic stop; arrogant, dismissive tones with promises of what he’d do with the power of the governor’s office.

Beauprez’s ads embodied everything I fear and despise about politics. They were mean-spirited, arrogant in the extreme, and appealing only to the people he was obviously speaking exclusively to—white conservatives. The subtext was all about how us white folks are gonna take Colorado back from the them and the those. Anti-gay, anti-immigrant, cowboy swagger and Cheney sneer, it was an add the Klan could have (and might have) produced. And it embodied the zero-sum game of cutthroat ’06 politics, the Dubya-era divide-and-conquer scheme of appealing to the largest voting block, not because you share their values but because they have most efficient voter delivery systems.

And this is where we’re at, voting our convictions without seeing any real results. And, yet, we keep doing it because we’re convinced John Kerry’s going to open abortion clinics on every street corner or that George W. will have them outlawed. Both notions are ridiculous. Yet we keep these soulless liars in power, and we do it in the name of Jesus. Because our pastors said so. Because James Dobson or Ted Haggard (whoops) told us to. And, when all the smoke clears, where are we at? How have our issues been addressed? What progress has been made for conservative values?

The mistake here, as it always has been, is for the church to put its faith in the political system. The church should put its faith in God. In Jesus Christ. The church should not be organizing politically. “well, pastor, we have to protect our families, our way of life.” Our lives here are not what we should be protecting. Jesus said he who loves his life will lose it [John 12:25]. Our job is not to protect our way of life. Our job is to proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ, to make disciples, to bring comfort to the poor.

As for the world going to hell in a hand basket—these are things the Bible declares must come to pass [Matthew 24:6]; that we should not fear them, but view them as signs of the Lord’s soon coming.

So, what, do we just sit back and let our values be trampled on? Let our rights be taken away? Of course not. But should we put blind faith in any human being? Should we believe any lie told us? Should we back any candidate who claims to be conservative and who plays us like mandolins?

The closer we are to God, the more we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us rather than our fears, we’ll become spiritually, economically and, yes, spiritually empowered, becoming less like children [Eph. 4:14] and played less like suckers by greedy, lying politicians. The main job of politicians, both Democratic and Republican, is to scare us into voting our fears, anger us into voting our prejudices. The love of Christ banishes fear [1 John 4:18], builds wisdom [Prov. 1:7] and produces patience [Jas. 1:3].

If we actually believed the Bible—believed all of it, and not just the stuff we like—God’s word would transform us. We would become more like Him, les fearful, les gullible, more patient. More understanding of what scripture actually says about the times we live in and less ignorant about the ways of God and our role in the world. We’d stop trying to do at the ballot box what we continue to fail to do in the pulpit. When we meet God, when we see Jesus, He will be wholly unconcerned about all the hard work you did defeating that ballot initiative or getting Senator Bigot elected. Our God will want to know who efficiently we spent our time here reaching souls for Christ, not how hard we worked to make our life here a Capra-esque fantasy whitewash. After all, at the end of the day, we’re only making our bed in a burning building..

Christopher J. Priest
17 December 2006