Op-Ed Melange: Cohen, Thomas, And Dionne genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Everybody has an opinion

Sometimes a pending reality check leads people to let down their guard and expose a little more of the core person that underlies the public persona...and then again sometimes a pending reality check forces people to moderate the rhetoric of their otherwise partisan agenda. I've been reading a number of op-ed pieces in the last few days as I've always found them to be most interesting as an election approaches. This midterm has produced an unusually large number of them.

The first is from Richard Cohen in the Washington Post in which he discusses how the Foley scandal has brought clarity to the GOP's position on gays and how it so aptly exposes the hypocrisy and inconsistency that has been fully illuminated by this election eve revelation.

"On the nose" is a Hollywood expression. It refers to an idea or a scene or even a piece of dialogue that is too obvious or too good to be true. Hollywood would have said the whole Mark Foley sex scandal is on the nose. Let's just start with the fact that this confessed gay stalker of teenage congressional pages was co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus. All over Hollywood, fingers would go to the tip of the nose: Can't we make it Armed Services?

No, we cannot. To change anything at all about the Foley matter would be to trifle with its essential vacuity, its reliance on bigotry and ignorance, its resplendent Beaver Cleaver qualities (congressional pages, for crying out loud!) and, not least, the fact that so far this is the ultimate Washington sex scandal: There is no sex.

That this happened to the GOP is too, too much. It is no longer the party of Lincoln but the party of gay-bashing. Its base, its vaunted base, is among those who embrace ignorance of homosexuality and, while they are at it, ignorance of sexual matters in general.

Put the finger back on the nose. It was the GOP that stood for family values. It was the GOP that cozied up to churches and preachers who likened homosexuals to the vilest people of all time and called on them to cease their wicked ways, go from homosexual to heterosexual, which everyone knows they can do but will not because, apparently, it is easier to be gay and reviled than it is to be straight and comfy about it.

With regard to this sort of haranguing demagoguery, the leaders of the GOP have not just looked away, they have encouraged it. They have set themselves up as the little Dutch boys of American politics, their fingers in the dike, holding back such unspeakable X-rated evil that it is a miracle any child in this great country can grow up to be heterosexual or devout or an accountant.

The abuse of trust is no laughing matter, and the corruption of children is in a class by itself. But a sex scandal-turned-political panic involving just one person lacks a certain something. That it has attained such critical mass, that it threatens the speaker of the House and the GOP majority, says little about the repellent Foley but a lot about how the GOP has been hoisted by its own petard. It's on the nose all right, but sometimes so is life itself.

Cohen's piece reminded me of an incident that took place during my days in grade school. I had a classmate that was prone to sticking his tongue out at anyone that met with his disfavor and it eventually became a playground issue. I can't even recall all of the details but for some reason I decided to intervene in order to halt the escalation and while suggesting to him that he shouldn’t stick his tongue out at everyone, he stuck his tongue out at me. I'm not even sure why I remember my response but sometimes circumstances unfold such that, as Cohen says, they are "on the nose". Anyway, in my "on the nose" moment, I told my classmate that if he kept sticking his tongue out that he would eventually bite it. As I read Cohen's thoughts on the Foley scandal, it seems to me that the GOP has finally bit its own tongue...and that seems as it should be.

The next op-ed piece is from E.J. Dionne and it is also from the Washington Post. Dionne is apparently acquainted with David Kuo, the former Bush administration operative who resigned and wrote the book, Tempting Faith, in which he suggests that the GOP sought to use their faith based initiative to lure evangelical voters...while many within the White House made disparaging remarks about evangelicals and their leaders.

Dionne raises a number of thoughtful points that evangelicals and people of faith might want to consider before casting their lot with a political party. I think Dionne's goal is to propose that people of faith might better serve their beliefs by focusing less on the political paradigm and by seeking out alternate avenues to express and enact their values. As I've said time and again, no one group or party holds a monopoly on morality and its time to dismantle the facade that has promoted that notion.

His argument -- Kuo went on the record with it long before this book appeared -- is that the White House never put much money or muscle behind Bush's "compassionate conservatism." It used the faith-based agenda for political purposes and always made tax cuts for the wealthy a much higher priority than any assistance to those "armies of compassion" that Bush evoked so eloquently.

Exposés of hypocrisy are the mother's milk of Washington journalism. Yet the most useful thing that could flow from Kuo's revelations would not be a splashy exchange of charges and countercharges but rather a quiet reappraisal by rank-and-file evangelicals of their approach to politics.

I hope Kuo's book promotes serious discussions in religious study groups around the country about whether the evangelicals' alliance with political conservatism has actually made the world, well, more godly from their own point of view. What are evangelicals actually getting out of this partnership? Are they mostly being used by a coalition that, when the deals are cut, cares far more about protecting the interests of its wealthy and corporate supporters than its churchgoing foot soldiers?

Kuo is being cut up by some administration loyalists. That's not surprising, but it's painful for me. I met Kuo in the 1990s through a conservative friend and was impressed by the power of his religious faith and his passion for developing a conservative approach to helping the poor that would be as serious as liberal efforts but, in his view, more effective.

All of which is to say that I once hoped -- and, for the future, still hope -- that left and right might meet in some compassionate center to offer support for expanded government help to the needy while also fostering the indispensable work of religious and community groups.

Kuo's book comes on the eve of an election in which the odds suggest that voters will administer a strong rebuke to Republicans and the administration. It will thus be read as another argument for why such a reproach is merited.

When Kuo says there's something wrong with "taking Jesus and reducing him to some precinct captain, to some get-out-the-vote guy," he sounds a trumpet that makes you want to follow him into the battle.

It should actually come as no surprise that compassion and the pursuit of power are not all that compatible. Further, history is littered with examples whereby the pursuit of power (politics) has hidden behind the platitudes of compassion or some other higher purpose. Frankly, the objectives and the rewards that compassionate people seek aren't likely a byproduct of politics or even government. The notion that politics or governance is public service has been long corrupted and the recently exposed hypocrisy ought to be a potent wake-up call. Compassion is learned; not legislated. In fact I would argue that the majority of those who can be identified as evangelical leaders have the same objective as most politicians...and the populous serves as the vehicle by which that goal...power...can be achieved.

As my dad has so often stated..."people like to talk about compassion, but they can't make a marriage work and they would rather gossip about the neighbor than lend a hand. They prefer to be a church leader or some other authority figure because they aren't actually interested in giving...they prefer to take under the guise of goodness". While self-reported polling suggests that America is a religious nation, I would actually suggest that these numbers more closely define our words than our deeds.

The final op-ed piece is an article by Cal Thomas from Real Clear Politics. I've long viewed Thomas as a partisan hack and though I include his thoughts in this posting, I find his words to be the most disingenuous and indicative of what I initially described as a moderation of partisan rhetoric facilitated by a new reality...which in this case appears to be the likelihood that the GOP will not retain their stranglehold on power.

Thomas suggests that the GOP has succumbed to the spoils of power in just 12 years...while he also states that the Democrats previously took 40 years to do the same. He doesn't explain the large difference in timing which is why I give less credence to the bulk of his observations. I'll offer my own explanation after some excerpts from his article.

It's not just the war, or the travails of former Congressman Mark Foley, or any number of other things that political experts and pollsters tell us has jeopardized Republican control of Congress in the coming election. More than anything else, it is the perception that Republicans stand for little more than maintaining power for its own sake.

The problem is Democrats have fewer ideas than Republicans. They, too, crave power for its own sake and would return to their failed class warfare of the past, the only warfare they support. They will grow government even more than Republicans have and they will raise taxes and retreat from engaging America's enemies, thus encouraging those enemies to come after us with renewed zeal and an assurance that God is on their side.

Thomas suffers the very affliction that allowed the GOP to lose favor in only 12 years. He cannot and, more importantly, will not concede that all that is prudent and practical does not reside in his party. Further, his misrepresentation of recent political history underscores his inability to face the realities that have led to his party's disfavor. Perhaps the last two presidencies will prove to be aberrations but if one were able to remove partisanship from the equation and simply apply labels to the policies of George Bush and Bill Clinton, then the GOP is the party of big government and the Democrats are the party of fiscal responsibility. With that said, his accusation cannot be sustained.

So why does it appear that the GOP's reign might end in only 12 years? Here's the explanation. George Bush and his administration suffer from the ideology of absolutism. Their ideas are not constrained by labels such as conservative or liberal; they are defined in terms of right and wrong and that makes them all to quick to discount anything that fails to conform. The GOP has failed in 12 years because it has placed its own ideology above the will of the people. They saw their ascension to power as a mandate to dictate when it was simply a decision by the electorate to give them an opportunity to lead. This midterm election may serve to make that clear distinction.

Thomas can't let go of the need to win and the need to be right. The solutions he offers are reserved for his Republican cronies and that only serves to demonstrate the problem with his own absolutist ideology.

If Democrats win one or both houses, they will face the same choices Republicans had in 1994. They can return fire, like some Middle East revenge-seeker, perpetuating a cycle that never stops, or they can announce that America's problems and challenges are too large for one party and work with Republicans toward common objectives. My guess is Democrats will crow like the Republicans did and begin to position themselves to grab the White House in 2008, giving immediate problems a lower priority.

If that is their choice, Republicans may want to try something radically different, which might not only produce policy successes that benefit the country, but incidentally pay them political dividends.

Republicans should assemble a bipartisan group of former members of Congress, such as Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn and Missouri Republican John Danforth. They would be commissioned to draft a bipartisan team to find solutions to common problems and challenges, such as a general framework for when American forces would be committed abroad and for what purposes. The team could also attack poverty in ways politicians have not, largely because each side is beholden to its "base," which won't let them stray far from past practices.

I'm astonished by the Thomas understanding that revenge and retaliation may not serve our interests. Has he lost sight of the fundamental construct behind the Bush administration foreign policy? Has he forgotten that any and all Democratic calls for an honest and candid debate about the war in Iraq and with regards to the war on terror have been met with accusations that those who disagree with the status quo are unpatriotic? Aren't the problems the GOP has faced in the last 6 years the same ones he suggests would be too large for one party to confront should the Democrats assume a position of power? Why wasn't that true during the last 6 years and why will it suddenly become true if the Democrats prevail?

If you need evidence of Thomas's insincerity, look no further than his call for "something radically different" and note that it is immediately followed with the all consuming ulterior objective that those measures might "pay them political dividends". Thomas is simply seeking the tools that have the potential to restore the GOP to power. Take note that he is proposing that a bipartisan group of "former members of Congress" carry out his olive branch strategy. His fear that the Democrats will retaliate is nothing more than his admission that they would have grounds upon which to do so. Don't kid yourself...Thomas and his ilk signed on to Karl Rove's vision that the GOP was poised to establish a dynasty that would dominate and dictate the political terrain...and compromise wasn't part of the equation. They sought to impose capitulation.

Republicans need to try something dramatic that will demonstrate success and communicate to the public whose interests they actually serve. If they do lose their majority next month, but learn the greater lesson that power should be a means to success, not an end in itself, they will not be the first party or person to learn more from failure than from success.

I don't disagree with Thomas when he suggests that politicians should promote the interests of the public they serve. Unfortunately, my cynical side leads me to suspect that the Thomas suggestions are simply an acknowledgment that the GOP will have to recalibrate their weaponry if they want to succeed in putting an end to the opposition. Nonetheless, if I take Thomas at his word, I shouldn't have to worry about any of this for at least another 40 years. I'm glad he pointed that out. Thanks Cal...I'm feeling better already.

Daniel DiRito | October 17, 2006 | 11:23 AM
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