Category: "culture/news"

The atheist candidate

I guess I won't be running for the Missouri House of Representatives.

I went to a meeting of the Bates County Democratic Party for the first time last Thursday. They were having their caucus for selecting delegates to the regional convention. Bates county has 4 delegates, and although Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama 1427-676, the delegates were split 2-2. At the caucus, we split up into Obama and Clinton groups. The Clinton side of the room had about 12 people, and the Obama side had five. We needed to choose two delegates and two alternates. Two people in our group immediately said they didn't want to or couldn't make it to the convention. I said I was willing to go and so I'm headed to Warsaw, MO later this month to help select delegates to the state convention (where they will select delegates to the national convention.)

At the meeting I met the chairman of the county party and we discussed their website and the possibility of me helping them with it. I came home feeling good about being involved.

Today (four days after the caucus) I got a call from the spouse of a party official. She asked me if I would be interested in running for the State House of Representatives. She said that I would be getting calls from some people in the party, including the campaign of Jay Nixon, who is running for governor, and the representative from a neighboring district.

The fighting 125thI live in the 125th district and our Rep in Jefferson City is Republican Barney Fisher. He's a former Marine fighter pilot who rose to Lieutenant Colonel before he retired and he's running for his third term in the Missouri House. Fisher won in 2006 by a count of 3,146 to 2,550 (55%-45%) and he'll probably have no problem winning in 2008.

The fact that the Democrats don't have a candidate yet is a bad sign. The fact that they tried to draft a 27-year-old computer programmer who had come to only one party meeting may be an even worse sign. That's not to say that I wasn't flattered. I like to think that I'm well-informed and well-liked. I like to think that my occasionally political blog is worth something. But surely someone in the 125th has a better shot at this than me. It was all about to be a moot point, anyway.

I said, "Now you should probably know that I'm an atheist."

She said, "Oh, is that widely known?"

"I'm very open about it."

"Why are you an atheist?"

"Because I don't believe in god."

Then I mentioned the poll that Gallup released last year, which says that 53% of Americans would not vote for an atheist. It was the only item in the poll with higher than 50% negative. Mormons, homosexuals, blacks, women and 72-year-olds all did better. The person on the phone agreed that it would be hard to run against a conservative Christian incumbent in a conservative Christian district when you go around saying that god doesn't exist.

She said, "That, as they say, puts a turd in the punch bowl. I'll stop the calls, then." Thus ended my very short political career.

That was probably one of the strangest things I've ever experienced. I was, in rapid succession, confused, flattered, disappointed and relieved. I wish my local party was organized better and had already chosen a good candidate. I think it's very nice that they thought of me. I wish that people who didn't believe in invisible beings were not de facto disqualified from public office. Yet I'm relieved that I won't be sinking time and money into a campaign that would very likely fail. And though it would probably be quite an adventure, I wouldn't have been thrilled about having a job that's three hours away from my home.

I don't blame the party for not wanting to run me, but I do wish that the people of this district (and the whole country) could understand that non-believers can be morally upstanding, sensible and compassionate public servants.

AMC Best Picture Showcase

Sara and I went to the AMC Best Picture Showcase on Saturday. It ran from 11 am to 11 pm, with about a 20 minute break between each film. The $30 ticket included all 5 movies and unlimited popcorn.

12 hours is a long time to be in a theater, but it's still nothing compared to the 24-hour Butt-Numb-a-Thon that Brendan went to in 2003. There were over 400 of us in the theater and it did start to smell by the end of the day.

Sara watched Juno with some friends in December, but other than that, we had not seen any of the movies. I thought they were all good films.

Juno was my favorite, though I wasn't surprised that it didn't win. Daniel Day-Lewis deserved the Best Actor Oscar and Diablo Coty did write the best original script.

Brian in Iraq

My brother-in-law, Lucas, did two tours in Iraq and now one of my very good friends is in the process of being deployed. He's keeping friends and family up to date at http://brian-in-iraq.blogspot.com/. (As I'm writing this, I typed in http://brianiniraq.blogspot.com/ to see if I remembered his url correctly. I was wrong, but it's a real site, too. That's kind of depressing.) Brian is an awesome guy. Regardless of how he feels about politics and the war, he's honoring his commitment and serving bravely. We're going to miss him while he's over there. Following the election this year won't be the same if I can't trade links with him and chat about strategies, issues and life in general.

I think the world of Brian, Lucas and all the others like them who serve our country. But I wish they didn't have to go. I wish the war was over and our troops could come home and stay home.

Be safe, Brian.

USASpending.gov goes live

The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 required that a searchable site of federal spending be online by January 1, 2008. The site is now live at USASpending.gov. It's not perfect, but this is a great step toward more government accountability. The site includes information on how complete its records are (plenty of room to improve), and it has an API so that programmers can extract the data and present it in their own applications.

There's already been some interesting things turned up. For example, since George Bush took office, the government spending on paper-shredding contracts has gone up 600 % (dug up by Radar Online). I'm sure there will be more good finds in the coming months. My hope is that if they know the data will be open to scrutiny, Congress will begin to curb irresponsible spending.

Congratulations are in order for the Senators who introduced the bill that made this site happen: Republican Tom Coburn and Democrat Barack Obama. Great work, guys.

On nation indivisible

A Perspective on the Pledge is a story set in an alternate universe where the Pledge of Allegiance was changed in the 50s to read "one white nation, indivisible" instead of the 1954 change that added the words "under God." It's an interesting way to look at the issue. What do you think? Is the analogy apt or not?

Reading this prompted me to get familiar with the history of the pledge before and after the 1954 change. It was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 to help sell flags. It quickly caught on and was being recited in schools within months.

The effort to add "under God" started in the Knights of Columbus in 1951, was rejected by Congress in 1953 and then accepted in 1954 after President Eisenhower backed the effort. Ike was convinced by DC Presbyterian minister George Docherty who preached a sermon on the subject with the President in attendance. Docherty said, "There was something missing in the pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life."

It started as an advertising gimmick, how much more American can you get? But seriously, I disagree with his statement. I think that liberty and justice are more important to America than religion.

Here are some questions I'd like to ask to my readers.

1. Is the "one white nation" analogous to "one nation under God"? In what ways are religion and race similar and different?

2. Which is more important to the American way of life, liberty or faith?

3. Does the pledge imply that non-believers are second class citizens?

4. What do you think of loyalty pledges in general and our Pledge of Allegiance in particular?

(via Bay of Fundie)

Romney is no Kennedy

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a speech today to deal with concerns about his Mormon faith. Many evangelicals don't consider Mormonism to be a part of orthodox Christianity. It's a voting bloc that Romney can ill afford to lose, yet he's seen his lead in the evangelical stronghold of Iowa slip away in the wake of the meteoric rise of former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee.

When John F. Kennedy faced similar concerns about his Catholic faith in the 1960 Presidential campaign, he gave a speech to a group of Protestant ministers in Houston, TX. Romney welcomed the connection between the two candidates, even choosing to deliver his speech in the same state today and to refer directly to Kennedy. I just read the full transcripts of both speeches. You can find them on NPR's website: John F. Kennedy, Mitt Romney.

Naturally, they make some of the same points. Both pledged to not take policy direction from their church leadership. Both said that the specifics of their faith are not as important as their commitment to serve the country. Both refused to become a spokesman for their church. But I'd like to look at a few quotes that show some serious difference in their approaches.

Romney

There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator.

Kennedy

While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election.

Kennedy all but apologized for even feeling the need to make the speech. Romney was more eager to talk about faith. Later in the speech Romney goes into much more detail than Kennedy did about his view of Jesus. He avoids the distinctions between the Mormon and Christian views of Jesus. I think he felt the need to make some statement about Jesus because those distinctions are much greater for him than they were for Kennedy. Whether he succeeded in reassuring the evangelical community remains to be seen.

Romney

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.

Kennedy

I believe in an America . . . where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice.

As a secular American, this is the part of the speech that bothered me most. Kennedy at least gives this brief recognition to the non-religious. Romney claims that without faith there can be no freedom. Joe Conason wrote in Salon that "This statement is so patently false that it scarcely deserves refutation." Romney only mentions secularism in a negative way, saying "They are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong." Note that Romney was introduced by George H.W. Bush, who once said that atheists should not be considered citizens.

Romney

Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate's religion that are appropriate. I believe there are.

Kennedy

I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment's guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it.

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States" (Article VI, section 3 of the US Constitution.) Asking and answering questions about faith certainly doesn't violate the letter of that clause. While Romney mentions this clause later in his speech, he seems to be evoking to avoid getting into doctrinal specifics as much as to uphold a principal he deeply believes in.

Romney

In recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life.

Kennedy

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.

Maybe when it comes down to it these two politicians shared a commitment to the principle of separation, but their different phrasings are striking.

Romney made two more points that are just begging to be corrected.

Romney

The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust. We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders - in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge . . .

God wasn't added to our pledge and money until the 1950s. It had more to do with Communism than it did with the founders. Romney doesn't come right out and lie here, but he does juxtapose two ideas with the intent to deceive those who don't know their history.

I was going to save my specific complaints against Mormonism for another day, but with this statement, Romney is asking for it.

Romney

It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter - on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.

The Mormon church was against abolition and civil rights. The church did not give full membership rights to blacks until 1978. What did Romney think of the doctrine of his church regarding black people during the 10 years between his 18th birthday and the "revelation" that changed the church's policy?

In Kennedy's speech, he listed several times when he publicly contradicted the official stances of the Catholic church. Is Romney willing to do the same?

Obama and national service

Barack Obama LogoThere are many things that set Barack Obama apart from our current President. His recent call for greater national service is one of them. Bush is the only President in history to cut taxes in a time of war. The closest he's come to asking for sacrifice from the civilian population is when he said they should go shopping more. This week Obama announced a plan to expand AmeriCorps and double the size of the Peace Corps.

Helping Obama introduce the plan was Harris Wofford, an aide to John F. Kennedy who was instrumental in forming the Peace Corps. Wofford said, "I haven't felt this way since the days of high hopes of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Barack Obama has picked up the torch that they lit."

Obama is not unique among the Democratic candidates. Edwards and Dodd have similar plans. But Obama seems especially capable of leveraging his charisma and leadership to inspire the public to service in a way that hasn't been done since Kennedy. And he's ready to back his rhetoric up with real programs. What's more, Obama's career in community service shows his commitment to this cause.

Obama pulls ahead

The Real Clear Politics Iowa poll average now has Obama ahead by four points. Recent Zogby polling shows that Obama is the candidate that can defeat any of the Republicans. He still trails in the national Democratic primary polls, but it's now clear that he can win Iowa, he can win the nomination and he can win the general election. I think he's the candidate that would be the best President, so this is great news.

Cooking with Pooh

Cooking with Pooh

Cooking With Pooh - Someone didn't think this title through.

(via Digg)

The Border Between Them

Image from AmazonLast weekend was the football game between MU and KU. I don't give a damn about sports, but it is interesting that this rivalry is called the Border War because there really was a time when the citizens of Kansas and Missouri were at war with each other. I'm currently reading The Border Between Them: Violence and Reconciliation on the Kansas-missouri Line by Jeremy Neely which explores the causes and effects of that war on six of the border counties. I live in one of those counties and it's been fascinating to learn more about the history of the area. I recommend the book to anyone who likes history, especially if you live in the area like I do.

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