Where are the GOP Candidates?

Did I miss it?

A true American tragedy has happened. A young, unarmed teen has been shot dead, and the shooter has not been arrested. The parents are anguished, the nation, black, white, and brown, is outraged, and I haven’t heard the GOP presidential candidates, with the exception of Newt Gingrich, say a word about it.

There has not been a word from GOP frontrunners Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum about it.

Gingrich, while defending the “stand your ground” law that Florida follows, has said that the case is a tragedy and has said that a full investigation is warranted. He has even said that the “stand your ground” law “may not apply in this case.”

So, are we to assume that the other three candidates, Santorum, Romney and Paul, do not care about this case, about what appears to be a true American tragedy? Have they no room in their hearts to at least express concern and care for young Trayvon’s parents?

Santorum raised the biggest stink about contraception. He has been vocal about the “attack on religious freedom,” but is he really so out of touch as to not see the vestiges of  injustice in this case?  Mr. Romney has spent literally millions of dollars to attack his GOP opponents; is there not a thread of outrage in him that would encourage him to attack or at least address a justice system that has allowed a gross injustice to occur?

This type of injustice as concerns African-American men, is not new. It is part of America’s reality. Any president, or one who wants to be president, is surely aware of that…and ought to have the chutzpah to speak out against it. After all, if Romney or Santorum were to be elected, he would have to be president of all of the people, not just of their base.

Am I wrong?

Thank goodness for the groundswell of outrage all over the country.  From what has been presented to us, there are serious questions about what happened. What seems sure, though, is that Trayvon Martin should not be dead,and George Zimmerman ought to be answering for his behavior.

Thank goodness, too, that we are seeing the capacity of Santorum and Romney to be willing to be president of all of the people, and their capacity to take a stand on a difficult issue: racism and the justice system in America.

These two men are not presidential. The president of the United States has to be the president of all of us. He (or she) has to have the courage to stand up and against what appears to be wrong. At the least, he or she has to be able to relate to Americans who are hurting, like Trayvon’s parents.

President Obama, who has walked carefully over the minefield called race and racism in America, has spoken out, saying that if he had a son, “he would look like Trayvon,” but he said he wanted to respect the investigation of the case,  both national and local. That was the right thing to do, the right thing to say. That as presidential.

However,neither  Santorum, Romney nor Paul has shown compassion or backbone, not in this instance.

It’s a significant revelation. It is a telling revelation. It is a troubling revelation.

A candid observation …

Whose Phony Theology?

This morning I heard a news report on “The Today Show”  about the surging poll numbers of GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum. He is apparently appealing to Republican voters who like his socially Conservative views, and is ahead of last month’s front-runner, Mitt Romney, even in Romney’s home state of Michigan.

But I don’t write this because of Santorum’s poll numbers. I write this to challenge Mr. Santorum, Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich to be honest politicians, and to win their nomination based on truth and not on sensationalism…AND I challenge news organizations to be honest and accurate as well, seeking truth in reporting and again, not sensational reports that will drive their ratings up.

Peter Alexander did this morning’s report, saying that Santorum is using religion as one of his tools to fight his opponents. We already heard him say that President Obama has a “phony theology,” but Santorum took a jab at the President’s Christianity yesterday, intimating that something may very well be wrong with a man whose pastor was Jeremiah Wright. Said Santorum, “He sat under Pastor Wright for 20 years.”

Enter the now infamous sound bite of Wright saying, “no, no, no, not God bless America. God damn America!” End of clip. As the clip aired, Alexander continued talking, saying that Wright was “forced to resign from his church after making inflammatory remarks.”

My soul fell out of my body. First, the clip…which I will talk about in a minute, but Alexander’s carelessness as a reporter made my blood boil. Pastor Wright did NOT resign; he retired after serving Trinity United Church of Christ for 36 years! In his book, A Sankofa Moment: The History of Trinity United Church of Christ,” Wright writes, “It was during those years between 2001  and 2005  that we began to look earnestly for a pastor to succeed me in leading the flock of God known as Trinity United Church of Christ….We were looking for someone who loved the Lord with all their hearts, their souls and their minds. We did not want anybody coming into the congregation who was playing with the Gospel or playing God’s people, pimping them or trying to get over on them!” (p. 283) The church had a Plan of Succession; his retirement was not new news. Pastor Wright preached his last three sermons at Trinity UCC in February of 2008;  his last Sunday as senior pastor of Trinity UCC was the first Sunday of March, 2008.

The lack of accuracy in Alexander’s reporting is a giant black eye on a news operation which prides itself as being competent and accurate.

But then…that clip. I cringed. There it was again…ten words taken out of context, and done purposely in order to feed into the fear, suspicion …and dislike of President Obama that has never disappeared. From the claim that the president is not American to the charges that he is really a closet Muslim…a non-American, non-Christian, who is in the White House. Santorum is feeding the sharks and he knows it.

That clip came from a sermon, entitled  “Confusing God and Government,” and was actually preached in 2003. In that sermon, Pastor Wright began by asking, “If you were to ask the average Christian, ‘did Jesus cry?’ almost every Christian would quote for you that John 11:35 verse, which most Bible students call the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.”

He goes on to tell the story around that particular verse…but then he begins to talk about why Jesus cried, going to the Gospel of Luke, where on Palm Sunday Luke says Jesus wept over the city; “he cried for his people who did not know the things that make for peace.”

Wright says, “He cried for his people because they were blinded by their culture, they were blinded by their conditions, they were blinded by their circumstance, they were blinded by their oppression…” He described a people who in Jesus’ day were oppressed by the Roman government; he said these people were tired of their oppression…they were blinded by the pain of their situation…”

He explains how people get confused: “Let me help you with something,” he said. “The military does not make for peace. The military only keeps the lid on for a little while…War does not make for peace, war only makes for escalating violence and a mindset to pay the enemy back by any means necessary,” a sentiment spoken by preaching greats including William Sloan Coffin and Martin Luther King Jr.

Wright talked about the people in Jesus’ day who wanted a new king but who were blinded by their circumstances, and “it made Jesus cry because they missed the meaning of his ministry.”  He continues to develop this thought, saying in the sermon that people were “confusing external appearances with external power.  People look for a miracle, Wright said, which is “just a sign,” but “the deeds of power point to a God who is greater than any physical limitation, and a God who can overcome any limiting situation…The people under oppression were confusing God and government.”

As he develops his thoughts, he talks about how some Muslims (and he is careful to say “not all Muslims”) confuse God and government who “condone a law condoning killing any and all who do not believe what they believe. They call it ‘jihad.'” He says we in America do the same thing: “we cannot see how what we are doing is the same al-Qaeda is doing under a different color flag, calling on the name of a different God to sanction our murder and our mayhem.”

“We confuse God and government,” he said. He mentions some of the things America has done in the name of God, including oppressing Native Americans and African Americans…”We believe God approved of African slavery.”  He talks about America’s Constitution which assumed men to be “more equal” than women, and he said, “We confuse God and government; we believe God is on the side of the wealthy.”

The place of the wealthy is forever up for discussion. Jesus, in the New Testament, and God in the Hebrew scriptures admonished the wealthy for not caring enough for the poor.  William Sloan Coffin once said “Our nation is going to have quite a lot to say about how tolerable this planet is going to be. And if it’s as hard for a rich individual to get into the kingdom of God as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, you can imagine what it must be like for a rich nation!”  In other words, the debate about the rights of the rich versus the poor is not new; the chasm between the two has been a subject for prophets and apparently for God from the beginning of time.

In this sermon, Wright makes three points; Governments lie; governments fail, and governments change. He talks about how our government has lied over time “The government lied about Pearl Harbor. They knew the Japanese were going to attack.  Governments lie!  The government lied about the Gulf of Tonkin – they wanted that resolution to get us into the Vietnam War. The government lied about Nelson Mandela and our CIA helped put him into prison and keep him there for 27 years. ..Wright talks about well-documented instances in which the government has lied, but ends that section with “God doesn’t lie.

He then talks about how our government (and others) change. “Long before there was a red, white and blue colonization, the Egyptian government was doing colonization. They colonized parts of the Mediterranean. All colonizers ain’t (sic) white…But while the government of Egypt and Pharaoh ran it, they don’t run a thing today, and why? Because governments change. When the Babylonians carried away the people of promise into exile, the Babylonian government was the baddest government around, but when King Nebuchadnezzar went crazy, his government was replaced by the government of King Belshazzar. King Belshazzar held a great big feast, big banquet, defiled the sacred vessels stolen from the temple in Jerusalem, and a hand appeared.” Here, Pastor Wright describes the writing on the wall translated by Daniel, which said to the king that his government would fail. Governments, Wright said, using the Biblical text, change.

But, he said, “God doesn’t change, quoting Malachi 3:6 which says “…thus says the Lord, and I change not.” God, he repeats, does not change, an affirmation and a comfort to people who need to know that God is a constant, no matter what.

Finally he says governments fail. He talks of how the Roman government fail; the Russian government failed; the British government failed; the Japanese government failed …and the American government failed “when it came to treating her citizens of Indian ancestry fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed; she put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, she failed.”

Said Wright: She put them in chains. The government put them in slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing, “God bless America” No, no, no! God damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!”

Governments fail, he says, but God never fails. He asks the congregants to refer to the Bible, where it says people will be cursed for not treating people right; in Deuteronomy 27 and 28, there are extensive lists where Moses explains why people (and nations) will be cursed and why they can and will be blessed. The fall of Jerusalem came about because the people “forsook God,” and the curse was that God allowed the enemies of His own people to topple them. It is not a pleasant message, but it is in the Bible.

I challenge Mr. Santorum to read the sermon, instead of making sneaky comments implying that there is something wrong with the president’s theology because he sat under the teaching of Pastor Wright. One might argue that a theology that allowed for the enslavement of African-Americans, the oppression of women, and the exploitation of workers is phony, too, if the Bible is to be taken into account.

At the end of the day, though there is one God, there are many different theological perspectives. The Rev. Franklin Graham gave a lukewarm acknowledgement that President Obama is a Christian, though he strongly affirmed that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are. When pressed by reporters on “Morning Joe” about his thoughts about the president’s faith, he waffled, criticizing the president’s policies which to him seem to be more concerned with protecting Muslims than Christians in places like Egypt. “We are not protecting the minorities,” he said, intimating that a good policy would be one that protected “the minorities,” which, in Egypt, are the Christians.

Yet, in America, many Christians historically have not been all that concerned with protecting its minorities.  So, which theology is “phony?” Which theology is “real,” in Santorum’s view or in Rev. Graham’s?

Rev. Graham said “all I know is that I am a sinner saved by grace.” That is the correct Christian jargon, but saying the words does not a Christian make, and, conversely, NOT saying those words when asked if one is Christian does NOT mean that one is not. Rev. Graham is right: the measure of one’s Christianity is found in the way one lives one’s life. Rev. Graham seems to have problems and issues with the president’s policies primarily in the Middle East, making him apparently doubt the president’s Christian belief claim.

As for NBC, I hope Peter Alexander corrects his error, and I hope all of the news operations are careful to check their facts before they put reports out that will only feed the fears and insecurity of so many people. I don’t feel sorry for politicians who rip each other apart, because those in politics know what they’re getting into, but the press has a duty to get the facts right and care about the lives of people it disrupts and destroys when it is not careful.

A candid observation ….

What Is a Conservative?

Mitt Romney at one of his presidential campaig...
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OK. I am confused.

What is a “real” Conservative? And when did the word “Liberal” become a virtual cuss word for those who are on the Right?

I was perplexed when Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said last week that he was “severely Conservative.”  I didn’t know what it meant; I am glad that David Frum, in an article posted on the CNN blog, said that what Romney meant to say was that he was, or is, “strongly” Conservative. (http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/13/opinion/frum-romney-moves)

Michelle Bachmann said she was the “perfect” Conservative, and this week, Sarah Palin intimated that Romney still has to prove he is Conservative enough to be a viable candidate to run against President Obama.

But I am still confused. What is a Conservative, really? What do Conservatives stand for? There seems to be a standard in order for one to call oneself “Conservative.” It’s like the elusive “standard” that exists for being “black.” President Obama has been chided by some for not being “black enough,” and by others for being “too black,” so much so that there is literally nothing else to call him but a Socialist.

In order to be a Conservative, what does one have to stand for? It’s can’t be small government and less government spending, because George W. Bush said he was a Conservative but made the government super huge and spent money like it was going to evaporate. He was “conservative” when it came to interfering with Terri Schiavo…meaning, he was on the bandwagon to make sure life-saving measures were not discontinued…but wait. That couldn’t have been Conservative, could it, when he invited the United States Supreme Court in to make a ruling on the case?

As I have always understood it, Conservatives stand for less government …but that’s not a constant standard, is it? I mean, some Conservatives are mad about “Obamacare,” because they say it’s government intrusion in health care, but isn’t the government already highly involved, so much so that we don’t have the freedom in some cases to choose our own doctors like we used to be able to, and we might be out of luck if we do not get certain medical procedures approved by our insurance companies first? Didn’t the government have something to do with where we are in health care today?

I am not being facetious. I am confused. What is the difference between a “real” Conservative and a Liberal? And what is it about liberalism that makes Conservatives so mad?  Is it because Conservatives think that a government ought not help the poor? Is it the Conservative viewpoint that people are down and out because they want to be and that they are where they are because they are just lazy? Is that what I am hearing underneath some of what Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have said? And is the Conservative view that we should let the elderly of our population kind of wing it when it comes to health care? I know Medicare is expensive, but what I am not sure about is what Conservatives are saying.

I am not trying to be a smart-aleck. I am genuinely confused. The Conservatives, many of them, say they are part of the evangelical population of this country. That is why they are against gay marriage, and want to overturn Roe vs. Wade…but if they are so attached to The Holy Bible, wouldn’t they have seen the literally hundreds of references about the poor and how God’s people are supposed to take care of them?  Liberals have been accused of being without religion, but what kind of religion is it that the Conservatives, a.k.a. the evangelicals, ascribe to?

I am genuinely confused. Is it just me, or is there a problem here? If Romney is “severely” or “strongly” a Conservative, what does that mean? When he ran for governor of Massachusetts, he said he was a Progressive. So…what do we have here? A new strain of politician? Is Romney a Progressive Conservative? Or a Conservative Progressive? It’s all really hard to understand for a non-sophisticated citizen like myself.

A candid observation …

Mitt Romney, You Meant What You Said

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts,...
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I was always taught that what’s in one’s heart is what comes out of one’s mouth.

Actually, there’s a scripture that says the same: “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” is how the Gospel of Luke puts it (Luke 6:45).  In my house growing up, my mother would remind us of that, and would warn us not to say things for which we would have to apologize. It was her way of saying, I guess, “Love means never having to say ‘I’m sorry.'”

In other words, when we say things, it’s what we feel. It might be in the heat of a moment, but it is what we really feel.

So, I don’t buy this stuff GOP candidate Mitt Romney is saying, as he explains his now famous statement, “I am not concerned about the very poor,” that he “misspoke.” Hardly, Mitt.  You said what was and what is in your heart.

As these GOP candidates have campaigned, all of them have said things which reveal what they feel about America’s underclass.  While I cringe at how they go after each other, it bothers me to my heart that these guys seem so disconnected from people in this country who need a government that cares about them.

It is probably naive for me to want candidates to care, but I do. I am not for “big government” as it is being described, but I do want a government that has the good sense to take care of its own. I am reminded of a speech Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King gave a year before his death as he spoke out against the Viet Nam War: he said that he found it hard to talk to young people about democracy because he couldn’t explain why a country – our country – would spend millions of dollars and sacrifice hundreds of thousands of human lives un a war supposedly to get their people freedom and civil rights  when our own government does not make sure its own citizens have the same.

We are coming out of  The Great Recession, an event which has devastated literally hundreds of thousands of Americans. The once poor are now the “very poor,” and many of the former “middle class” are now poor. These are people who worked hard and who were whammied by the sinking of our economy which presumably happened because of the activities of greedy wealthy people. Though the unemployment rate is slowly dropping, and more and more people are finding work, many, too many, of our nation’s citizens are suffering.

And Mitt Romney, it seems, could care less.

He said that he wasn’t worried about the very poor because they have a safety net, meaning government programs – which help them, but an indicator of how far removed he is from the madding crowd, so to speak, is that much of that safety net is being and has been chipped away, and if he has his way, even more of it will be eliminated. He cannot relate to the fact that way too many Americans need food stamps in order to eat, to feed their children. He has not seen the eyes of the poor and very poor, trying desperately to get out of the wells of despair in which they sit, but he doesn’t want to. He is not concerned about them.

Newt Gingrich has seized upon Romney’s statement and is using it, saying we should be concerned about the poor. Nice try, Newt, but his earlier statements, including the one that’s been a part of his campaign rhetoric, that President Obama is the “food stamp president” shows that he isn’t too concerned about the poor, either, but is more concerned about a government which has issued a record number of food stamps to keep people going during this economic tsunami.

And even President Obama hasn’t shown much verbal concern for the poor; he has been soundly criticized for not mentioning the poor more often and for not coming up with more policies that directly impact and help the poor of this nation, specifically black and brown people.

Needless to say, the U.S. Congress has not shown by its behavior that it is concerned all that much by the poor. The primary objective of House Republicans is to make sure that Barack Obama is a one term president, and the Senate has been rather mealy-mouthed in addressing the ills of this nation as concerns our suffering citizens.

So, what are the poor?  If the poor or the very poor are people with whom the leaders of this country are not concerned, what kind of nation are we, really? Mitt Romney has said that people are “jealous” of people who have money. How callous is that?  He said that  over $300,000 he received for a speaking engagement was not a lot of money. Again, it doesn’t get much more callous or insensitive than that.

Mitt Romney, you didn’t “misspeak.” You spoke what was in your heart.

A candid observation …

“Meanness” an Attribute for GOP

I heard this morning that what Conservatives most want is someone who is “mean,” someone who can beat the president in this fall’s general elections.

That’s why issues about Newt Gingrich‘s marriages and his alleged desire for an open marriage, just wasn’t an issue in the South Carolina primary. There is a “national conversation” that is in place, one ABC reporter said, and in order for Mitt Romney to regain a bit of the ground he has lost, he has got to tie into that conversation.

Included in the conversation is anger amongst the GOP.  The successful GOP candidate must connect to that anger, and run a campaign that addresses the “politics of resentment.” It seems, according to some, that a large part of the GOP base is angry at the “elite media,” the  economy, of course, and the fact that Barack Obama is in the White House.

When Newt Gingrich did his “Contract with America” some years ago, the issue of anger was addressed; specifically it was the anger of white men. Is that the same crock pot that Newt has identified and is adding ingredients to – this pot of stew, brimming with elements of white anger?

This election cycle is a bit scary to me; for the party of “faith and values” to be willing to abandon that platform just so they can elect someone they think can get the president out of the White House makes me wonder about the validity of their claim to be so above it all. The recent YouTube video of the young man giving a spoken word about how he hates religion but loves Jesus, then, seems so appropriate. This young man sees the disconnect between what religious people say and do, and it bothers him.

It bothers me, too.

It seems that if the faith and values people are just looking for someone to go on the attack, and be “mean” enough to get President Barack Obama out of office, then something is askew. If the Evangelical, pro-life base is willing to remain silent on what appear to be obvious moral breaches on the part of Newt Gingrich, just because they think he can beat President Obama, then something is wrong.

When it no longer becomes important that a presidential hopeful at least appear to be concerned for all of God’s children, when it becomes OK for a man who’s marital and extramarital indiscretions are not important (when in the past, such indiscretions were enough to knock any candidate out of the ball park), then we Americans need to stop and pause.

We are in a very dangerous place.

I suspect that the next few weeks leading up to the Republican convention are going to be painful, because the campaigns will be so nasty and so “mean,” that the real issues will be lost. Politicians are good at manipulating the emotions of Americans, and Newt Gingrich is one of the best.

If it is true that what GOP voters are looking for most is someone who is “mean,” it’s likely they won’t be disappointed.

But at the end of the day, what in the world will it mean for our country?

A candid observation…