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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response on religious freedom, freedom of speech and diplomacy

Note that her remarks are grounded in constitutional principles and traditional American values.

 

I share her opinion that there is something cynical and intentionally provoking about the video. I don’t think I am treading into tin foil hat territory when I say that the timing, coming right after the Democratic convention when the nomination is set, is very suspicious.  The video also highlights a particular obsession among the Fox News set- pedophilia.  That combined with negative sentiment about Islam makes it particularly volatile.  I think this puts Obama in a tight spot but it is a spot of his own making.  In the weeks leading up to the election, he has to be careful not to alienate the religious voters that he has taken pains to court recently, going so far as to override the sentiments of half of the delegates at the convention when religion was reinserted into the platform.  He also has to be careful not to undermine his own foreign policy.  It will only give speculators an excuse to increase gas prices and unnecessarily destabilize an already unstable situation in the middle east. In a way, having Hillary there to deliver this message and take the blow is good for him.  Another Clinton helps Obama out, with little thanks, I’m betting.

I wouldn’t put the blame on the Republicans without proof that they were up to something.  But given their willingness to blow up the financial markets last year over the debt ceiling, I can’t rule out such a reckless move in order to discredit Obama.

Never underestimate the Republicans.  They play to win.  And despite what the loyal Democrats might think, Obama is especially vulnerable.

The first (and possibly last time) I have ever agreed with ThereIsNoSpoon

David Adkins, aka ThereIsNoSpoon, tells it like it is on the contraception debate at Digby’s Hullabaloo:

These things don’t happen by accident. The conservative establishment decided early on that this was going to be a hill for them to die on. They weren’t forced to die on that hill. They could have let the Bishops stand alone. But they didn’t. They decided to run this ball all the way down the court.

And guess what? As Digby points out, it’s working. What just a few weeks ago was considered so mainstream as to an afterthought (providing contraception) is now seen as some sort of controversial touchstone, even as “religious freedom” has become a buzzword in the press.

Democrats can high-five one another about Republican overreach and laugh hysterically at the increased number of votes Barack Obama will receive in 2012 over Mitt Santorum. But ultimately the joke’s on us. It’s been on us ever since the Obama Administration decided to concede an inch to the misogynist conspiracy of extremist fanatics that are the Bishops, rather than mock them immediately for being out of touch with their own flock, to say nothing of the mainstream American public.

The political ground on contraception has suddenly shifted to the right faster than I have seen on any social issue in my lifetime. It’s incredible.

I think my tinfoil antenna were picking up the “Religious Liberty” meme a couple of months ago (damn, I really should be more thorough with tags) and wondered what the heck the Republicans were up to.  For some strange reason I thought it would have something to do with Faith Based Initiatives or something like that.  Definitely, this was going to be The Big Deal during the 2012 election season, The Wedge Issue of the Year.  Who knew it would take the form of a War on Contraception?

When are Democrats going to realize that the Republicans have a crack operation of skilled psychmetricians and marketing people who have have done expert data analysis and have strategized the best way to get their voters to the polls in November?  Democrats SUCK at this.  Yes, all you Kool-Aid addled Obots, Barack Obama didn’t win because he was some kind of wonderful.  He won because part of the Republican war machine got behind him in 2008 to take out the real Democrat.  He’s a fricking one-off.  His election was historic and that was the wedge issue of 2008.  Now, he’s no longer historic.  He’s just a lousy president.

So, while the feminists are justifiably tearing their hair out over the loss of more bodily autonomy, let’s examine why this is such a phenomenally successful wedge issue.  First, Obama and his entourage went on a rampage in 2008 and slashed and burned their way through the Democratic base.  Misogyny went unchecked and even gained a foothold.  Congratulations Democratic party!  You’ve just made a substantial portion of your base second class citizens.  Any woman who jumped on this bandwagon seeing a ticket to ride to the top of the access list should really have her head examined and none of us should be forced to listen to her or read about her anymore.  For damn sure, she should not be sitting on panels in places like the local branch of NOW in Kansas.   (H/T Katiebird)

It goes without saying, even though some women are apparently dumber than a box of rocks, that women should NEVER put their own interests second to the political ambitions of any man.  No, no, no.  Not until we have achieved full equality, which means not for the forseeable future. If you have an opportunity to vote for a reasonable woman, even if you do not agree with her 100%, you should vote for her if she represents your interests as a woman and is willing to fight for your equality. Your focus should be on what she will do for women because we are the majority of citizens in this country and what is best for us, tends to be best for everyone else as well.  You should not be distracted by someone else’s priorities and unless she is personally leading the convoy into Baghdad on the top of a tank like some modern day Boudicca, her views on war should be put into the same context as other candidates. In the future, I hope that women will hold each other accountable for maintaining unity.  Any stepping out of line should be met with swift and thorough correction.  We need to be a voting bloc to be feared, uncompromising and retributive.  Let’s learn from the Christian coalition playbook, shall we?

And let’s dispense with the idea that the Republicans are ignorant of the scientific method.  What did the Republicans learn by observation from 2008?  They learned that Barack Obama is a self centered, ambitious guy.  He’s a guy who doesn’t have any particular interest in women’s rights.  His fealty is to the banking class.  That’s who’s footing the bills.  Unfortunately for Obama (and this is what makes him such a lousy politician), he still needs women he’s been blowing off in order to win.  He needs their votes.  He doesn’t need banker votes because there aren’t enough of them to make a substantial dent in the electoral college. And what do bankers care about contraception?  Do they even have an opinion?  No.  The only people who really care about contraception are the conservatives and Obama’s not going to get their votes anyway, unless he intends to kiss up to them. And the only reason he would bow to their votes would be if he was intending to blow off his base and go right.

This is where we are.  Obama had a choice.  He could either stick up for women’s equality and bodily autonomy and tell the religious they were being intrusive.  Or he could try to be all things to all people and hope that the bishops would negotiate with him in good faith so he could grab the religious while keeping the women relatively quiet.  Remember, this is no-drama Obama we’re talking about.  He’s not into confrontation.  He prefers quiet little negotiation sessions where no one raises their voices and everything is on the table- because that’s worked so well in negotiations on our behalf with the bankers in the recent past {{rolling eyes}}.

(Note to loyal Democrats: Once you experience the “Pain of Independence“, you’ll never be able to look at Obama in the same way again. The nausea and disorientation can be alarming but your perspective will change and you will be almost desperate to get him out of the Oval Office.)

The Republicans see this as passivity, which it is.  In the corporate world, we have management training courses on personal power and dynamics.  The facilitator would describe Obama’s modus operandi as a losing strategy.  Imagine there is a passive-aggressive scale from 1-10 with passive on the lower end and aggressive on the higher end.  To be truly effective as a negotiator, you should stay in the sweet spot of 5-7.  A 4 or below is too passive; 7 and above is too aggressive.  Ideally, both parties want to stay in the sweet spot.  But if you normally operate as a 4 and your opponent is at 7, you need to go up to level 7 to be effective.  If he goes to 8, you need to go to 8.  He has to see that you’re not backing down so that he must in order to strike a deal.

The problem with Republicans is that they are always at level 8.  And if you don’t come right back and smash them at 8 or above, they’ll escalate.  We are now at escalation.  They’ve gone to 11 and Obama et al are at level 5.  Great, just great.

That’s why ThereIsNoSpoon is disconcerted by the way Republicans have dominated this issue.  They went from 8 to 11 and now anything Obama does is going to look defensive.  If he had come out swinging in the first couple of days and told the Republicans that they were setting new precedent and moving the goalpost back on women’s rights and he, Obama, was not going to yield on contraception unless Jesus tapdancin’ Christ came down personally to negotiate on behalf of the bishops, he would have ruled the day and even *I* might have had some kind of grudging respect for him.

But he’s a baaaaaaad politician.  Craven, selfish, indifferent, calculating and a poor decision maker with equally bad political consultants.  So, now, the idea that a religious institution can have a say over whether or not you get birth control when 98% of its own adherents ignore said religious institution’s very clear, very unambiguous proscriptions against it, suddenly, that idea looks pretty reasonable.  Americans don’t tend to think these things through very carefully these days because they are overwhelmed with personal and financial obligations, so they rely on the media to tell them what’s going on.  Obama managed to be so ineffective at stopping the meme through his own inept handling of the matter that the right wing noise machine’s religious liberty meme is just hitting its stride.  It’s going to be repeated and repeated and repeated until it seems normal until suddenly, women will start having a devil of a time getting their prescriptions filled without some byzantine procedure.

And let’s not forget that the only people who really care about denying people contraceptives are highly conservative seniors and their church hierarchy.  No one else gives a damn.  The wedge issue is just a clever way for Republicans to separate a few more women’s votes from Obama when they realize that, once again, he threw them under a bus and doesn’t seem to understand how much harder he has made their lives.  In the meantime, the religious right will think they’re being persecuted (oh PLEEZE) and will have a very good reason to show up at the polls this November to toss the Democrats out on their asses.

Now, I could be wrong about this but I don’t think that there is anyway *this* president is going to be able to fix this particular issue at this point in time.  He may go on to win as a result of some other catastrophe but he’s lost the edge he had on the contraceptive issue.  Maybe another player will be able to change this around but not Obama.  So, the Democrats better have something else up their sleeves or the Republicans will eat their lunch.

Just because they don’t like their present candidates doesn’t mean the Republicans can’t get their voters spitting nails by November.  And Democrats shouldn’t count on independent liberals to save their bacon at the last minute.  We’ve got our eyes on a different prize these days.  We’ll just sit on the sidelines and watch the bloodbath.  We’re into solving problems and this election isn’t going to solve any problems.  If I were the Democrats, I might have curbed the impulse to squash OWS and women and ignore the unemployed for so long.

And don’t look now but the Republicans are going to turn off the gas spigot this summer and stop UI bennies in September.  If the Democrats had stored up some goodwill over the past four years, the impending pain and chaos wouldn’t look so horrible.  But they didn’t and it will.  If I were them, I’d pass on the White House and work like madmen to elect new faces to Congress.

**********************

More of Titli’s Busy Kitchen.  This recipe is for Caramel Shortbread.  Stick with it.

Friday: On Religious Freedom

Gosh, it’s tough to be a high school atheist these days. No wonder Brooke wants to homeschool. Jessica Ahlquist of Cranston, R.I. is catching Hell for speaking up at school board meetings about the, well, there’s no other way to say this, offensive prayer that hung in the lobby of her high school for 49 years. It’s hard to believe that Cranston got away with it for that long. One suspects that it was some kind of “in your face, asshole” response to Madelyn Murray O’Hare’s 60’s crusade against prayer in public school. Here’s the text of the prayer:

Our Heavenly Father,
Grant us each day the desire to do our best,
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically,
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers,
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,
Teach us the value of true friendship,
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
Amen

What’s so wrong with that, you might ask? Several things. First, there’s a presumption that there is a God. You can believe what you want. I’m not an atheist but I also don’t believe in the God of the Bible. Secondly, that non-existant Biblical God doesn’t have a gender. Not only is this prayer offensive to atheists, it’s offensive to women and girls. The minute you walk into Cranston West H.S., you already know where you are in the cosmic pecking order. Starting the day as the lowliest of the low does not make for an affirming academic experience.  The majority of Cranston’s residents are Catholic and Catholics don’t really have a place in their theology for women except as virgins, martyred virgins, virgin mothers, cloistered virgins and babymakers.  It’s a very binary world for Catholic women.

The rest of the prayer presumes that students can’t be moral, kind, supportive or friendly if they don’t believe in the non-existent, male, Biblical God.  This puts the atheist in an awkward position.  If they want to stay on the school community’s good side, they have to conform and keep their atheism a secret.  We can see by Jessica’s example what happens when they don’t.  Whenever someone proclaims that creationism is as good as evolution or that it’s Ok to ostracize someone who’s gay or call girls sluts if they have sex because that’s what it says in the Bible and it’s moral, the atheist can’t really challenge that ignorance and hurtful behavior without revealing themselves to be an UNBELIEVER.  I’m not quite sure why it is that believers can’t tolerate the unbelief of others.  It’s a mystery.

The prayer has a way of squashing dissent. Keeping the unbelievers quiet means that biblical “morality” and Fox induced Acquired Stupidity Syndrome goes unchecked and propagates, and we as a nation go further down the rabbit hole because unquestioned obedience to an authoritarian power trumps reason.   I’m sure that Rupert Murdoch and our financial industry overlords are fine with this but there’s no reason why any American should be complacent about it.  Unleashing the power of the faithful in a country that has been encouraged to embrace fundamentalism is leading to our own destruction.  Fundamentalists are trained to not trust their own understanding but allow others to interpret scripture and events for them.  This has the potential to empower dangerous people who will take advantage of that faith and unquestioning obedience.  We are now living in a country where citizens bully school girls who won’t comply with the indoctrination.  In this country, the majority presents us with the choice of letting the authoritarians and their useful idiots run the country or keeping silent.  If I were religious, I’d call that a sin.

Then there are the other students who attend Cranston West who are not from a Judeo-Christian background.  What about Buddhists?  They don’t have a God either, do they?  What about Muslims?  How would the good burghers of Cranston R.I. feel if the prayer started with “Allahu Akbar”?  What about the pagans?  I particularly like this pagan prayer:

Oh Goddess Mother

Let me act in wisdom

Conquer my fear and doubt

Discover my own hidden gifts

Meet others with compassion

Be a source of healing energies

And face each day with hope and joy

Short and sweet.  It says everything the first one does but doesn’t say anything about morality.  Of course, you do have to ascribe to a non-Judeo-Christian female entity but if Cranston’s going to complain about that then it might be a violating civil rights law, not just the first amendment, by creating a hostile learning environment for girls.

In the meantime, Jessica has had to put up with a lot of, ahem, disapproval from Cranston residents:

In the weeks since, residents have crowded school board meetings to demand an appeal, Jessica has received online threats and the police have escorted her at school, and Cranston, a dense city of 80,000 just south of Providence, has throbbed with raw emotion.

State Representative Peter G. Palumbo, a Democrat from Cranston, called Jessica “an evil little thing” on a popular talk radio show. Three separate florists refused to deliver her roses sent from a national atheist group.

WTF??  They won’t even deliver her roses? It sounds like Cranston’s citizens have never read the prayer they’re fighting so hard to preserve, especially the parts that ask for assistance being “kind and helpful”, “To be honest with ourselves as well as with others”,
“to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win”, “teach us the value of true friendship”, and “help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West”.  Maybe they think all that morality only applies to high school students.  I have to wonder if Cranston parents are being faithful to God if they are telling their kids to obey this prayer but are acting completely differently at home and in front of the school board.  Shouldn’t they be setting a good example for their kids?

Oh, the poor Judeo-Christians of Cranston, persecuted for their beliefs.  Doesn’t this 16 year old godless heathen know that the majority of Cranston’s residents are Judeo-Christians?  Why does she have to bring her intrusive governmental regulations into their quiet, peaceful, little village full of moral, upright citizens?  She’s probably a drug taking, low life, lazy, potential drop out who sleeps with the entire football team- all at one time. Or not.

No, Jessica is simply a minority in her school.  Well, as far as anyone will ‘fess up to she’s a minority.  I suspect that the whole honors level segment of her class, as well as the sleeper kids in the regular CP level courses, have already made the leap from “literally” true to “metaphorically” true.  It would be nice if they all had a “I am Spartacus!” moment in support of their ostracized classmate.  It would be nice, but knowing high school like I do, I wouldn’t count on it.  Minorities are minorities because there aren’t many of them.  That’s why the writers of the constitution took special care to protect them.

When it comes to matters of conscience, the first amendment was not written to protect the religious freedom of the vast majority of citizens of Cranston.  They already have that protection by virtue of their numbers.  The first amendment was meant to protect the religious freedom of the Jessicas.  And Suresh.  And Chengua.  And Rhiannon.  And Alia.  And who was it meant to protect them from?

The people of Cranston.

For more information on Jessica standing up for the First Amendment right of the minority to have religious freedom (or freedom *from* religion), check out the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  They have several podcasts about Jessica.  The latest one can be found here.

One final thing:  Honestly?  I don’t have any problem with people believing whatever they want.  I do have a problem with them proselytizing.  When you tell a religious person that you’re not interested, they need to leave you alone about it- permanently.  Yes, you can cross us off your cosmic checklist. But people who knew me on the school board know that when I was a member, I was actually quite protective of the religious Christians.  I felt that sometimes the school administration and teachers were trying to teach values to children and I don’t think that belongs in school coming from the teacher.  (Remind me to tell the story about the AIDS activist and the giant purple dildo) Values should be taught at home. If Christians want to teach their children that abstinence is the only birth control allowed, homosexuality is a sin and Darwin was wrong, that’s their business.  I happen to think they’re whacked but as long as those kids come to school exercising good behavior and respect towards their peers, I don’t think the school can credibly ask for more.  It is good citizenship that schools have the right to enforce, not values.  Yes, you might legitimately argue that the right beliefs and values lead to good citizenship but you may be intruding on someone else’s conscience in this regard and at some point, we have to agree to hold people accountable for their actions, not their thoughts.

What I have found, from personal experience, is that even if a kid is raised in the strictest household where God’s word is law, once they are exposed to other ideas, the smart ones will figure it all out for themselves.  For the rest, school officials should content themselves with compliance and tolerance and that is what they should ask of religious parents and no more than that.  Their kids are just as constrained by a system that requires their attentive presence as the more liberal parents’ children.

When it comes to changing people’s behavior and attitudes, leading by example and modeling good citizenship is much better than teaching kids values.  And it keeps the fundamentalists out of your classroom in school.


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