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My friend brian over at saint superman has offered me a prime opportunity to once again reach across our two realms and discuss not merely the facts but some of the philosophy of politics. So sit back and relax as we wax philosophical as only college students can.

The separation of church and state is one of the tenets which lie at the heart of the modern concept of liberal democracy. After centuries of various forms of religious tyranny and warfare this was deemed the only way to allow the various religions to exist under one sociopolitical roof without vigorously attempting to disembowel one another. So far as the experiment has been ongoing here in America, it’s been fairly successful. Keeping religion out of the sphere of government without making an effort to destroy it outright appears to so far constitute the best happy middle of human governance.

This is not to say that religion has been placed on the sidelines entirely, as a mere cultural window dressing with no role left to play in human affairs. As Pope John Paul II once said “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.” I believe that the state and religion exist in a similar duality, each having an important role but in different and distinct spheres. The state provides for the physical, material wellbeing of its citizens, setting up things like police and schools and hospitals and laws that keep people from bashing each other over the head (professional wrestling notwithstanding). Religion provides for the spiritual wellbeing of the human family, and generally give the WHY to the state’s HOW: the state tells us we shouldn’t, religion tells us specifically why from a moral/ethical standpoint we don’t just crack open each other’s skulls and feast on the goo inside. This is one reason that, while being an agnostic myself, I don’t by into the efforts of people like Dawkins who insist that religion must not merely be abandoned, but actively destroyed. But that’s a whole other post in and of itself.

The main problem arises when the two spheres intersect. Is marriage a purely religious institution or should the state promote it? If so, should the state take steps to prevent gays from accessing this institution? Is abortion a moral wrong, and if so to what extent should the state move to punish it? To what extent should evolution and “intelligent design” be forced to sit down together and play nice? It’s in these and other areas where the distinction between the spiritual and temporal realms blurs that even our much ballyhooed happy compromise begins to break down, as evidenced by the almost tribal animosity these issues generated. Of course the situation isn’t helped when parties within the state manipulate these divisions for their own electoral gain, but the essential problem remains nonetheless. So far we’ve chugged along with solutions legitimized by various referenda, but some of these issues are so fundamental to questions of human rights that the losing side, be it in a state banning gay marriage or legalizing abortion, feels the sting of the tyranny of the majority, and rightly so. But how do we solve such a fundamental problem? Unfortunately it’s here that our ability to reason a solution gives out, at least for now. In the near term, the debate itself will have to suffice, in hopes that one of the questions engendered therein will lead us to a more correct answer. For while the separation itself may be sound, like so many other aspects of american political life it remains a work in progress.

And yet eventually society will need to develop a cultural consensus on these issues, simply in order to function. Culture is one of the things that binds a nation, that makes it a nation, and this is especially true in America, built on a patchwork of various viewpoints and ideologies. Points of consensus are necessary simply to prevent, or at least reduce to benign levels, the kind of ideological factionalism that has been the doom of so many other countries. These things will simply need to be handled on a case by case basis. Of course, the benefit of the American system is that, having accepted the will of the people as the ultimate source of legitimate authority, we can decide these things on the same basis. The problem there is that on this basis alone the results can be taken as simply the tyranny of the majority. Historically, it is at these sort of impasses that state has stepped in in order to secure the rights of the minority, for example in the civil rights movement. When the state acts in such a way as to defend and expand the rights of its people, the short term objections are typically smoothed out as the culture assimilates the inherent justice of such a move. I’m confident that, given the restraints imposed by the framework of the constitution, and the ever-underlying threat of the social contract, an equitable solution will eventually be found, though it’s shape is currently unknown to us.

-We’re all in this Together


Canada’s Globe and Mail yesterday ran an article about the various fallouts from the Mumbai attacks.

Politically, the next few days are critical for Manmohan Singh’s Congress Party government, as their handling of the crisis could result either in the population rallying around the government, as in America after 9/11, or repudiating it in elections, as in Spain after 3/11.

Economic effects aren’t expected to be that severe (at least not compared to the Reckoning), although short term blows to both consumer confidence and tourism, especially in Mumbai, are expected. I’d expound more but understand little enough of economics as it is, although I invite more economically inclined readers to comment on this implication.

More interesting, and very very dangerous, is the effect on the dance of death most people refer to as Indo-Pakistani relations. The perennial game of mutual recrimination is already well underway, and the two sides already nearly came to blows over the bombing of the Indian Parliament back in 2001. The Zardari government is of course strenuously denying any Pakistani involvement, although CNN is reporting that a hijacked boat has been recovered containing phones with calls logged to Jalalabad. With the Pakistani government already intensely fragile in dealing with its own terrorism problem, the Indian government needing to make a show of force to reassure its own population, and an ongoing leadership vacuum in the United States, things are ripe to go very bad, very quickly. Which of course strengthens my own opinion that whatever combination of groups was behind this is likely bred within India with the aim of defusing any post-Musharaff Indo-Pakistani detente.

EDIT: CNN article states the city called was Jalalabad, but that city being in Afghanistan it seems unlikely. Wikipedia confirms the terrorists actually called Karachi.

First, Happy Thanksgiving to my 2 or 3 hypothetical regular readers and anyone else who happens upon this place in the next 12 hours.

Second, to anyone with connections to Mumbai I truly hope you and yours are safe as the more information comes out about the situation there the worse it seems to become.

Third, a bit of good news lost amidst the awful reports coming out of India: The Iraqi Parliament has approved the Status of Forces Agreement, thus signaling the beginning of the end of the major American presence in Iraq.

I’d write more but I’m shortly off to my own Thanksgiving, so I’ll try to be back later tonight.

Arianna Huffington’s up with an interesting article on turning the Obama-Clinton saga into literature, and in the process unleashes so many quotation marks you’d think the Huffington Post were suffering from some form of gnat infestation.

Radio silence on here has been induced by something of a crunch at work, leaving me unable to perform my usual duty of scanning other, more well read blogs for material. Hopefully I’ll be getting more free time this week to jump on and ramble on like a madman, but that’s only half the problem. With the election over there hasn’t been too much going on politically that I’ve found interesting outside playing Obama Cabinet Chess, but with the results of the Chambliss v. Martin runoff in Georgia hopefully coming in tomorrow that could well change.

As you’ve no doubt noticed Politico has become one of my primary news watering holes, and today they’ve got an article on an effect myself and several of my friends had already been anticipating: power may well cause the democrats to turn on one another.

In essence, the Democrats and the Republicans now face similar problems, albeit to much different extents: whereas the Republicans are enacting a ritual of mutual-self recrimination after receiving what is universally considered an electoral bitchslap, the Democrats may become victims of their own electoral success as their expanded majorities in both houses give enough room for regional/ideological fault lines to be exposed. The extent to which this occurs depends on a few things, most importantly leadership. Obama has been critical in that he’s had an excellent rallying effect on the dems, but whether that carries over into the actual task of governance remains to be seen. In any case the president in general doesn’t do much in the way of direct leadership in congress, a task that falls to the Majority Leader in the Senate and the Speaker in the House. I haven’t been paying much attention to Reid so I can’t say much about his capabilities (though this itself might say something), but I and many other of the moderate-liberal persuasion are thoroughly dissatisfied with Nancy Pelosi, who seems to enjoy nothing more than deliberately pissing off house republicans. Of course her other favorite hobby, talking a big game before caving in to the president, takes a close second.

In a nutshell, the quality of democratic congressional leadership is somewhat wanting, especially in the face of the democrats as yet unparalleled skill for screwing themselves. And as much as the republicans may seek to take this title, for the most part they can relax somewhat and just concentrate on their own building civil war and wait for the democrats to inevitably screw things up. For as we all know, the karmic wheel of politics will continue to turn no matter who’s in power.

-We’re all in this Together

Ladies and Gentlemen, it seems as if the system still actually works.
Most significant outcome of this, aside from having one less contested race to watch, and the GOP not having to endure the additional self-flagellation of expelling one of their own, is that the clearest road to a platform of national prominence is now closed to Sarah Palin.

I’ll be back with a link from a more widely-read news source once the major outlets shift this from the red BREAKING NEWS banner and post an actual story.

EDIT: Thank You, MSNBC

Mike Allen and Ben Smith of Politico have an interesting debate on the matter of HRC

Mike: So a lot of usually skeptical Dems are convinced the Madam Secretary thing is going to happen, though one school of thought says that if it were real, it WOULDN’T have leaked. What do you make of them taking her motorcade to the transition office?

Ben: I’m pretty confident that they’ve really considered it, though I don’t know if that’s what Obama and Hillary discussed yesterday. But the leak itself, combined with a laundry list of other factors (Bill Clinton, Bill Clinton, Bill Clinton), make it hard for me to see no-drama Obama actually picking her. How do you get around that one? Or do other factors outweigh it?

Mike: I’m less suspicious because of how the word leaked — it seemed more organic than orchestrated. I started asking about her yesterday because I heard the SecState list was down to three, and a buddy had guessed that she was one of them. Several good sources said it was impossible, for all the obvious reasons. (Yes, Bill, that means you.) But in the afternoon, I got an e-mail back from one of them with the subject line “HRC” and the message: “As you may be hearing, I was wrong. She’s totally on the list and may be at the top.” I called him back and said, “You DO know how to get my attention.”

Ben: Well, it’s hard to argue with actual sources. I, too, talked to someone who said Obama himself has seriously discussed the prospect. And you can’t discuss these things for too long — it’s even possible that the decision has been made. But the downside isn’t just Bill: It’s having someone who thinks she, not Obama, would be a better president in a crucial policy-making role, making her own policy and, perhaps, undermining him. And what’s the upside? She has little leverage. He’s already a superstar diplomat.

Mike: Here’s The Argument (Mat Bai homage): President Obama may be tied down on the domestic economy and may have to essentially outsource part of the important job of re-engaging with American allies. She brings star power and credibility on the world stage. And if the economy gets worse, which it could well, how often is he going to want to be photographed with a million screaming Parisians? And here’s a big one: If the president-elect decides to keep Secretary Gates (now THAT, I’m skeptical of), her nomination could be a counterweight to that decision. Finally, would you rather have the Clintons inside the tent, or outside the tent?

Ben: It’s a good Argument. But Obama spent the campaign not letting the media bait him into stunts and demonstrating just how much he likes control. This would be ceding a tremendous part of his administration to a rival he can’t control and to her husband whom nobody can control.

Mike: Yes. The reason I always laughed down the idea that she would be on the ticket is that a) he is more convinced than ever that he doesn’t NEED the Clintons and b) Who wants the former president as a back-seat driver? Also, lots of folks are raising questions about the mess involved in disclosure of all his foreign business dealings. The pushback is that the president-elect is confident enough now to have a Team-of-Rivals cabinet — confident like only a president-to-be can be. Unlike when he’s choosing a running mate, it would be done from strength and he’s totally in the driver’s seat. You get the last word because I’m taking my 5- and 6-year-old nephews to the “trading card store.” We’re in the market for an Eli Manning and a Plaxico Burress.

Ben: And I’m sitting at the counter at a diner on Montague Street with an indulgent 5-year-old. That kind of Friday. Which makes me think this is, at least to some degree, the product of a serious news vacuum.

Continuing on the theme of narratives to which the media refuses a natural death, pundits are SLAVERING over the possible implications of a secret meeting between Obama and Hillary, which in the real world range from the rumored offer to make her Secretary of State to discussing the best time to take afternoon tea (ok probably not quite THAT banal but you get the idea). As much as Obama wants to construct a cabinet that operates as a “team of rivals”, hillary clinton would form a presence so overwhleming as to throw the entire operation out of whack. To use an astronomical analogy, if the Obama administration is a galaxy then Hillary Clinton is a supermassive black hole, a place where all the normal rules and laws of physics not only do not apply but are in fact ground into a fine paste. She would be excellent in a somewhat less central advisory role, or even as Obama’s active senate attack dog, but I think she would exert too much of a warping influence to be effective within the administration proper.

Plus I’d much prefer Bill Richardson for SecState, if only to see the first hispanic high official who isn’t a complete jackass.

As much as I disagree, sometimes violently, with Sarah Palin’s politics, even I’ve become tired with the media’s favorite new parlor game of making her look like an abject fool. Yes, her grasp of key national policy areas was and still is shallow at best. Yes, in the late stage of the campaign she fell off message a lot. And yes, her voice makes you want to shove a pencil in your ear.  And much as her fanbase may be loathe to admit it, yes most of these were relevant points of examination during the campaign considering she would’ve been but a heart murmur away from the nuclear football. However, the campaign is now (mercifully) over, and 2012 is a (mercifully) long ways off. So why the continued media saturation of her? Why continue dragging the woman through the muck?

The reason, I beleive, is tied to part of why her national rollout ended up amounting to the most spectacular political miscarriages since Howard Dean screamed himself out of the presidency. Sarah Palin, like the man with whom she shared a ticket, was placed into an impossible position. Whereas McCain was forced to attempt to placate archconservatives while at the same time reaching out to moderate independents, Palin was plucked from Alaska and, in the course of a few weeks if not days, expected to become a viable VP candiate, a plucky foil for Joe Biden, and essentially the new Golden Idol of Conservatism while having as little contact with the media as possible. We all know what the end result of that was. But with the 2012 campaigns essentially already underway, as well as the decisive role she is expected to play in the GOP’s philosophical battle of ragnarok, it seems the “liberal” media and moderate republicans find themselves in case of strange bedfellows in a quest to discredit her before she can become the prophesized reincarnation of Reagan.

As Ben Smith over at Politico points out, such institutions as Newsweek appear to be at best relying on extremely shaky sources and at worst resorting to outright fabrications to hasten her demise. I don’t subscribe to the narrative of an overarching liberal media conspiracy, but even I’m surprised as the unaminity with which most news outlets are attempting to shove her through the wood chipper. I don’t think such measures are even necessary, as I will reiterate Sarah Palin is a generally smart politician who was severely mishandled. The republicans’ existential crisis is not our problem, and let’s face it, if all else fails we can always send Katie Couric to do that voodoo she do so well.

One of the primary factors that led to Obama’s victory was his campaign’s overwhelming advantage in using the internet to both organize their supporters and beg them for money. This latter point especially added to the air of a campaign fueled by the many small contributions of the common man and not the few gigantic contributions of special interests (the extent to which this is true can be debated but I generally agree with this interpretation).

According to CNN, this mastery of the web will extend into his presidency. Most of you already know about or have heard about it as the primary web portal for begging the new administration for jobs. An excerpt from aforelinked article, however, show that this may just be the tip of the iceberg of President Obama’s efforts to reach out to the public in the online medium:

People who follow Obama online have become a community that the president-elect can tap into, said Andrew Raseij, founder of, a Web site that tracked the online operations of the 2008 presidential campaigns.

“He now has his own special interest. He has a group of people he can go to and ask them to participate in helping him pass his legislative agenda,” Raseij said.

He also predicted that Obama will use online video and interactivity to revolutionize the way the commander in chief communicates.

“I think the days of just a Saturday morning radio address and an occasional press conference as the way the president speaks to the American public are over,” Raseij said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Barack Obama starts doing a weekly YouTube video and also fireside chats for the 21st century by allowing people to filter up questions to him that he might answer.”

The president-elect already has said he’ll have a five-day online comment period before signing any nonemergency legislation, so Americans can be part of the process.

I find this to be a very positive and possibly effective move on Obama’s part, especially considering the extent to which people have abandoned print in favor of the internet as their primary source for news (the post-election newspaper stampede notwithstanding). It also furthers the perception that Obama “gets it”, in this case “it” being the fact that he’s going to be governing a nation in which the rising generations (myself and many of my friends included) cannot concieve of modern life without the internet. The idea of a comment period on legislation is especially interesting, as it not only get people engaged in the actual legislative process but also counters charges of the presidency being a watered-down monarchy. The extent to which this is effective will of course depend on how much he actually heeds such comments.

And of course there are disadvantages: this being THE INTERNET we’re talking about these comment boards would have to be strenuously moderated, especially in a culture where flaunting one’s idiocy on YouTube comment threads has become something of a passtime. Let us not at this juncture even conceive of what would transpire were Obama to somehow incur the wrath of 4Chan, let alone Anonymous.

In spite of the possible pitfalls, I do see this as being a fundamentally good move, both for the Obama Administration and the cause of public relations in the US in general. Now is the time to get people of my generation interested in politics and governing. We’ve been lured in by the Obama Campaign, it’s time for the Administration to keep us around.

We’re All In This Together

November 2008
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