9/15/2005

So the headlines yesterday were all about how, nearly three weeks after the fact Bush has "taken responsibility" for his Katrina cock-up. And we're supposed to cheer him on account of it. Again, he wants to be congratulated for stating the obvious as if it were a revelation. The fact is, the administration was backed into a corner, that's the only reason the buck finally stopped somewhere. It's not reassuring that it took a natural disaster that wiped out several cities, and an appalling humanitarian crisis to get the commander-in-chief of these United States to say "the buck stops here." That should be the guiding philosophy of any administration, an assumption, not an exception. It shouldn't be a last resort, at any rate.

But even in adversity, the administration's cup is half-full. No one -- well, a modest 18% of those polled are following the Roberts hearings. Everyone is watching the fiasco on the Gulf Coast unfold. But there is another, more fatalistic reason why even those who might be more engaged have turned their attention elsewhere: they know Roberts is going to be confirmed, and they are saving up for whoever is next on the list of Stepford Supreme Court judges. After all, we're likely to have back-to-back confirmation hearings, and Democrats risk being seen as obstructionists if they oppose both nominees with equal ardor. That's why they wanted to know who the other guy would be before the Roberts hearings -- so they could know who to put their energy into opposing. Bush has hinted, coyly, that Gonzales, of torture memo fame, his current Attorney General, could be the one, although many radicals on the right say he's too liberal for them.

Katrina will have a far-reaching impact on American politics and culture, somehow, but a court packed with these punks will have an arguably further reaching one.

The coverage of Rehnquist's demise verged on nauseating, especially immediate, next-day coverage. The simpering reporters and anchors on the networks put on their sad masks and solemn tones, and there was even angelic harp music before the commercial break (on NBC, I think it was). For this puke of an evil ideologue who only other ideologues of his ilk will miss. There were no warm fuzzies for Rehnquist, because he was a thoroughly unsympathetic person. I've said it before: we have a name for those who fight for the rich: mercenaries. And when a mercenary dies, no one mourns. We don't mourn the greedy, who worked tirelessly for their own interests. Even their cohorts don't mourn them -- they're too busy looking out for number one themselves. We mourn the selfless, who strive to better the conditions of the underdog, of society as a whole.

Now, I'm not saying we need to fawn over the poor, because they're no more charming on the whole than any other class of people. And I'm not saying there's not self-interest in social safety nets. On the contrary, we have an interest as a society in extending opportunities to the poor, in helping all individuals gain the skills to better themselves, and thus better society as a whole. It's a kind of reciprocal altruism: we help ourselves by helping them. We abandon them, or worse, rob them of opportunity, we only do ourselves a disservice. There's a reason we have a public school system and public libraries in democratic societies -- the idea is that everyone gets a shot, but we have to be earnest in our desire to better society in this way. And we have to be willing to sacrifice something for it.

I didn't mention much about the feedback I got (and continue to get) on that piece I wrote about the Gospel according to Pat Robertson. Yesterday, a colleague of mine, an Italian (I mean, from Italy) who had heard about it, and actually searched it out and read it several weeks after the fact, came up to me in the corridor and said that although he understood my point wasn't it interesting that it was not considered offensive to rag on Christians or Catholics, but no one dares to be critical of Judaism and Islam. I'm afraid I sort of proved his point by telling him I didn't even want to go there. I have not written anything for Metro about the situation in Gaza, and don't intend to write anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict any time in the future, but it's for sort of the same reason I don't intend to write anything for publication about abortion. I mean, you have to choose your battles.

I think part of the reason we can rag on evangelicals is because they are, for the most part, Christians in name only. What I'm getting at when I point it out has very little to do with Christianity, much more to do with brazen hypocrisy. My colleague is Catholic, of course, and it is true enough that Catholicism is considered a fair target of criticism in our culture. That has been the case since the very beginning, hasn't it? But it's like anything else. I mean, Jews can be critical of Jews, but it's different when a gentile jumps into the fray. Same with blacks or gays or women, or anyone, really. Would I go around calling my black friends "niggaz"? No, certainly not. I feel I can criticize so-called Christians because that's the culture I grew up in, that I know about. There are claims and counter-claims about the meaning of the tradition to which I belong, and which belongs to me. There are plenty of Jews who are critical of the claims and counter-claims of their fellow Jews.

What I would say to my Catholic colleague is people like Robertson put themselves out there with their claims on the tradition, and they should be rebuffed -- they attack the culture and then when people react, as they must, as they should, the Robertsons of the world play the victims. It's a tiresome, childish game. Sometimes Jews and Palestinians do the same. Blacks, women, gays, and straight people, Republican and Democrats do it, too. And they all deserve a swift kick in the ass when they do.

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