Friday, April 15, 2005

Give 'em Enough Rope...

The New York TImes reported today that Dr. Bill Frist, the Senate Majority Leader is lending his voice to a publicity video being distributed by Christian activists starting on April 24 --- a day the Christian PR machine has deemed "Justice Sunday." The poster promoting the televangelical event carries an image of a white teenage boy quizzically looking at a gavel in one of his hands and a bible in the other, accompanied by the taglines, "Public service? Faith in Christ? He should not have to choose." and "The filibuster against people of faith." Well, last time I checked, we still had separation of church and state in the U.S., so the answer to the poster's question is really quite simple. The teenage boy doesn't have to choose, he can have both. And, constitutionally, he is bound to separate one from the other if he ever decides to become a public servant.

Dr. Bill Frist, by lending a hand to these Christian PR specialists, seems to be coming dangerously close to violating the oath of his office. One can only assume that the broadcast will be an attack on Senate Democrats' use of the filibuster in opposing religionists nominated to federal court judgeships by the Bush administration. If Frist seems unfamiliar with constitutional law, at least he is intimate with the rules of the Senate which he is threatening to change if these nominees continue to be held up by filibustering tactics. A look at the Senate's website shows a little history of the filibuster and one such rule change (cloture) that affected it. Of course, Dr. Bill is probably well within his purview to junk tradition and try and get a majority of his colleagues in the Senate to change their rules. That's not what's so ironic here. Lately in this conflict, he has been likening this proposed rule change to some kind of constitutional duty that Democrats are obstructing, saying things like:
"It's consistent with the Constitution, where we are as a body to give advice and consent, and the only way we can give advice and consent is an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate."
Both bodies of Congress have always been full of this kind of maneuvering for partisan power. It's funny to see so many scholars flexing their head veins over these issues. What's not funny is the extent to which people like Dr. Bill Frist are willing to go to ignore the sacred separation of church and state and come out in the media supporting extreme religious positions which are blatantly toying with the U.S. Constitution.

It seems to me that we should all be more worried about this fanatic minority trying to take over our government by successfully purchasing the souls of ambitious politicians like Dr. Bill Frist, rather than quibbling about Senate rules, the "nuclear option," and how many times the filibuster has been used by each party. John Dean, our favorite second act American, thinks Dr. Bill may hang himself if he actually did try to exercise the nuclear option, but in the meantime enough rope is being furiously manufactured for the rest of us.

The 21st-century fascist youth poster boy is staring us right in the face, and he has a gavel in his hand. Isn't it clear that Dr. Bill Frist should not be giving political speeches on TV with these people?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Encomium to Popes John Paul I and II

News of the Pope's death, his funeral arrangements, the reading of his last will and testament, paeans to his life in the mainstream press, throngs of mourners descending on Rome from all over the world, jockeying by members of Congress to be included in the official U.S. delegation to his funeral --- it has all caught me in between two states of mind, I and II.

John Paul II was high priest of the Catholic church for much of my life, and will retain a place in my mind somewhere between entertaining media figure (video scenes of the Popemobile) and principled politician (his strong opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq). I agreed with his pronouncements probably half the time; the other half I found antithetical to the progress of a modern world. And, unfortunately for many of us who live in the developing world where papal pronouncements are taken as the Word of God, his dogmatic positions were probably quite destructive, especially in the areas of individual rights and the fight against AIDS.

As a young teenager, upset with a beauty and goodness that had seemed to abandon America sometime around 1974, I distinctly remember being disappointed when John Paul II ascended the throne in '78. I'd already been captivated by the humility exhibited by John Paul I in his short and reluctant reign as king. He was a humble Northern Italian man who for some reason I thought might bring some beauty and goodness back to me --- if only in the form of tolerance for other world religions and individual free will. Alas, he died suddenly of a heart attack only 33 days into his papacy, and the compromise that had led to his ascension was nullified by the conservative wing of the church in the personage of John Paul II.

Here was a guy from Poland, completely opaque to me as a young American on the other side of the Iron Curtain, taking over for a kind Italian man whom I thought embodied the best of Europe's qualities of enlightened thought. But, who could've known then that a divided Europe would open itself up so widely in the coming decades? To the point where John Paul II would no longer seem like just another beaten-down, paranoid guy from Eastern Europe?

Well, he kept his religion beaten-down and paranoid, but at least he got out there in the world and met some real people, and for that I am grateful. By doing that he made us all come a little closer together in some small way.

So, after all the moneyed religions of the world end up fighting themselves into oblivion, we'll still have the memory of that Polish dude who you could actually hang out with, even though he had some pretty seriously misguided religious beliefs. I shed a tear for the disrespect he showed the modern world, but another one for the legacy of his personal friendship to the wider world.