Over the last eight or so years, we have witnessed a regressive and reactionary transition in America. Most distressing to me has been the conservative harnessing of the religious right as electoral storm troopers and the growing influence of these troglodytes in forming educational and scientific policy. As I observed our country's political life degenerate, I looked for ways to fight back and have an impact. I have been very vocal on blog sites, I have made contributions to civil rights organizations, and I have shown up at political rallies, but still I wanted to do something in the area of electoral politics that might actually make a difference. Although I don't have much time, and I don't have much money, I've finally come up with something that I can do, that I think might make a positive impact, or at least has the potential to prevent harm...
I wish I knew the answer to the question posed by the title. Some of the possible scenarios trouble me, because of the influence clergy traditionally have on (especially) older congregants in their flock (both within and outside African-American communities), and because of some of the, shall we say, less-than-holy relationships some of these pastors have traditionally had with local political machines. Combined with their still-critical role in many communities, especially when abandoned by the leaders theoretically elected to take up their causes - see for example here (PG-specific example) or here (a good explanation from NYC that applies well elswhere in the US, from the late and much-missed Steve Gilliard) - the potential influence of clergy in African-American communities such as PG's should not be dismissed lightly.
What brought this query to mind is an endorsement letter I received from Senator C. Anthony Muse (MD-Sen-26), in support of Congressman Wynn (letter mailing paid for by the Wynn campaign, fyi/fwiw). I've transcribed the letter, and it is provided after the jump. What you should know about good ol' Senator Muse is that he is also Reverend Dr. C. Anthony Muse, pastor of Ark of Safety Christian Church in Upper Marlboro. It probably doesn't hurt that his wife, church Elder Pat Lawson Muse, is the 4pm news co-anchor at DC's NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4), where she's been an on-air anchor for quite a few years now.
Yesterday, while in a waiting room of a physical therapy facility I met a man with Muscular Dystrophy. I was enduring CBN's Pat Robertson on the television. I started to scribble some notes for a possible diary. Then from behind me came the voice of someone who was definitely not a fan. The fellow was engaged in a conversation about the hypocrisy of some (I'm being generous) conservative Christians. Soon we began to compare notes on how both of us have ended up needing to use a wheelchair part time. When ever I tell someone I had polio the conversation turns to President Roosevelt. He made the statement that what made FDR great was his need to overcome the limitations brought on by polio. That dealing with physical obstacles makes one look at things differently.
I always thought public schools circumvented the problem of observing religious holidays by doing generalized "winter breaks" and "spring breaks," but apparently in Baltimore County they're more explicit, even closing for Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur. If that's the case, then I say, let 'em close for Islamic holidays too. Of course, when you start accommodating individual faiths, you immediately get into the thorny questions of which faiths are "legitimate" and which are not, which is a good reason to exclude them all, or (more likely) dance around it with "winter" and spring" breaks.
The rationale for closing for religious holidays seems to be, other than plain old tradition, that there's going to widespread absenteeism anyway, so there's no point in holding class on those dates. Is this a good reason? Again, there's a pragmatic appeal, but it all too quickly gets into the weeds of Establishment Clause issues, etc.
[NOTE: while this is not specifically a Maryland issue, it has implications for Maryland no less than for the rest of the United States.]
One of the most ironic things about religion is its capacity to make men and women either a lot more humble or a lot more arrogant. In dealing with a government, of course, it's the arrogation of power and the infliction of damage upon the innocent with which we should be concerned. If religion made men consistently more humble, more decent, more mature, all of us would have far less reason to fear it as a mode or tool of governance.
Faithfully Liberal has an interview with former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who has a new book out about politics and religion, somewhat in the mold of Jim Wallis:
Q: You write of the possibility of another Great Awakening in the faith community, "a discussion of what a just society could look like." What does a just society look like to you and what do you believe the next Great Awakening entail?
A: The short answer is that a just society has a commitment to the dignity of every man, woman and child. We are connected to one another as children of God-who loves and cherishes each of us. It is incumbent on us to work for the common good so that work is rewarded, health encouraged, education honored, public resources treasured and families supported.
We need to be awakened to the need for fairness in making economic decisions. Incentives should be directed to families for health and work and education. Also critical is an objective and fair legal system that is not organized to do the bidding of one faction or party. We need to be aware of the globalization of economic choices and to encourage new internationalism and cosmopolitanism, not a narrow tone of fear of the other. The current tone set in the White House puts America at a competitive disadvantage in a flat world. It's not smart.
I went to a talk she gave at the University of Maryland a while back, and it was pretty good, actually -- though like many in the "religious left," she has the annoying tic of assuming that "some" liberals, who are never named, are hostile to religion. She also never got into the racial dimensions of the whole religion and politics debate in America, something I think is curiously neglected.
The current bill that would expand health coverage in Maryland gets a boost from religious leaders. Sen. Mike Miller is still dead set against the tobacco tax part of it -- perhaps if the bill was funded by slot machines, he'd support it. In fairness, though, the potential instability of the bill's funding source is problematic, unless it could be proved there's some baseline level of people who will always smoke -- which itself would be troubling for health advocates.
Here's one possible way to close the budget gap: end the loophole allowing landowners to transfer properties without paying taxes on it. Bruce Godfrey has a good analysis.
Last week, I mentioned that Bob Kresslein, head of the Frederick County Democratic Party, had been sentenced to probation for a DUI charge. Well it turns out it had happened back in August, and he never told anyone about it. Now some local Democrats are calling for him to resign. Expect some on the ground reporting on this later.
Sign of the times? Plans for a horse park in Anne Arundel County have been scuttled, possibly in favor of an organic community farm.
No good news for people who love bad news: Deborah Palfrey, the so-called DC madam who threatened to sell her list of clients to help pay for her legal expenses, has backed down. Now she's giving them away to "a responsible news entity." (No, we don't qualify.) So no Washington sex scandals for the time being. And isn't it depressing that I have to say, "for the time being"?
Sen. Ben Cardin is joining Sen. Barack Obama's effort to make election-day bamboozlement a crime (i.e., those infamous "Ehrlich-Steele Democrats" sample ballots). Good for him: Although the fake flyers were a massive flop, they are yet another example of the Republicans' perennial strategy to introduce fear, uncertainty, and doubt among poor voters and African-American voters -- who, no surprise, vote overwhelmingly for Democrats.
There's a growing movement against the Maryland High School Assessments, our regime of standardized tests that students must pass in order to graduate. Various groups are alleging that many students aren't getting the resources necessary to pass, and that a student's future shouldn't be tied up to four tests anyway. I always hated standardized tests, even though I usually did well on them, but perhaps there are readers more knowledgeable than I am about the tests and why they're a good idea -- or a bad one.
Some local governments seem to not know the meaning of the term "public servant":
In Kent County, people can find out in a matter of minutes how their officials would react in the event of an emergency.
In Wicomico County, people asking for the same documents are told releasing the information is against county policy.
Across the state, auditors asking for their community's Comprehensive Emergency Response Plan - a document that by federal law should be readily available to the public - were met with distrust, disorganization and denials.
Of 23 Maryland jurisdictions surveyed, only six auditors were able to immediately obtain the document. Eight were denied outright. The remainder encountered myriad difficulties in their attempts to get the information.
Maryland Moment gives a rundown on the status of some recent bills in the General Assembly: A Senate committee passed a resolution expressing regret for Maryland's slaveholding past, and the House unanimously passed a bill permitting Muslims to bury their dead according to their tradition. Sadly, the "No fake bull testicles" bill died in committee :-)