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“Just think about that for a second”

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My last post focused on Sarah Palin’s completely preposterous claim that US President and African American man Barack Obama wants to return the US to an era of discrimination reminiscent of that which existed pre-Civil War.

Since then, I have been unable to shake that comment. If you too are struggling to conceive of just how AMAZING that idea is, I recommend Palin: The First Black President Wants to Revert to Pre-Civil War Society, by David A. Graham over at the Atlantic.

Graham does a quick but thorough job of explaining why Derreck Bell, and college Obama, are not actually scary black racists:

Bell wasn’t a violent revolutionary but an academic theorist and campaigner for equality; there’s no evidence that Obama was a zealous apostle of Bell’s critical legal theory; and Obama’s term in office, whatever other criticisms one may make of it, hasn’t been characterized by radical black nationalism…She suggests that by taking part in a protest of the near-total lack of senior faculty of color at Harvard Law School in the 1990s, both Obama and Bell wanted to restore apartheid in the United States. Keep in mind, they weren’t black nationalists calling for blacks to separate themselves, which might give some credence to her charge: they were advocating greater assimilation.

and looks at the problem of discussing racial inequality:

What Palin is expounding is a belief that has become common among conservatives. Almost all conservatives (like almost all liberals) agree that racial equality is the ideal toward which the United States ought to move. But many on the right have adopted the view that the only way to address racism is to pretend it does not exist. Thus, anyone who talks about race or acknowledges race or makes mention of the fraught American relationship with racism must by definition be a racist. Clearly, that makes Barack Obama and Derrick Bell racists. It also makes Juan Williams, a center-right commentator, a racist when he points out that Newt Gingrich is using “food stamps” as code for “black.”
Of course, if not talking about race were the solution, Harvard might have had a racially diverse faculty by 1991, rather than lacking a single tenured female professor of color. (And remember that Bell was the first tenured black professor, so he knew whereof he spoke.) And though Harvard Law has made gains in that area, there’s still a discrepancy — so the more quiet discussion of the topic in the last two decades doesn’t seem to have closed the gap.
Palin is right that the promise of America is that we “have equal opportunity to work hard and to succeed and to embrace the opportunities, the God-given opportunities, to develop resources and work extremely hard and as I say, to succeed.” But it is a masterpiece of doublespeak to say that standing up and asking society to deliver on that promise undermines it.

I don’t quote this at length to imply that Graham is right in everything he says–but I think his case is pretty strong that Palin is very, very wrong.

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Written by Christopher ZF

March 12, 2012 at 13:55

Palin, Obama, and Pre-Civil War inequality

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Let me get this straight.

Sarah Palin thinks that Barack Obama is trying to bring the United States back to an era similar to that   which existed pre-Civil War? Um. Why would he want to do that? Ms. Palin, does that accusation not seem a bit, well, stupid?

He is bringing us back…to days before the Civil War, when unfortunately too many Americans mistakenly belived that not all men were created equal,” she said. “What Barack Obama seems to want to do is go back to before those days when we were in different classes based on income, based on color of skin.”

For the record, Ms. Palin. I don’t know anything about this radical professor that Obama embraced as a Harvard Law Student. I’m personally not particularly concerned about the first black president of the Harvard Law Review giving a cordial endorsement and hug to the first black professor of law at Harvard. You however seem pretty confident about the proper behavior of a young black law student in 1991, so I’ll let you judge. It sounds like Dr. Bell was fairly controversial, so maybe I’m not giving this its proper concern. Or maybe a 20 year old hug is a 20 year old hug.

But when you say, pejoratively, that Obama agreed with “the radical agenda of a racist like Derrick Bell who believed that white men oppress blacks and minorities,” I’m curious what you mean. Do you think that the white men did not oppress blacks and minorities? Because, you know that the United States has a long history of white men in fact oppressing blacks and minorities…right? And that history is in no way erased from our nation.

Anyway. I feel confident that I can safely say that the first black President of the United States does not want to return America to an era of pre-Civil War racial discrimination.

Written by Christopher ZF

March 9, 2012 at 14:25

Protect separation of church and state from Rick Santorum.

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The idea of the separation of Church and State is integral to the United States. Upholding the idea remains as important today as it was when our founders built a nation that expressly forbid the mingling of the Church with the operations of the government.

Rick Santorum, though, disagrees. He says:

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute,” he told ‘This Week’ host George Stephanopoulos. “The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country…to say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes me want to throw up.”

Two quick things for Mr. Santorum.

One: I disagree vehemently, and am terrified that a Presidential candidate would claim that the church should have influence and invovlement in the operations of the state. That is unconstitutional, and opposes the very foundation of the US as a nation by people who understood the dangers of allowing the inter-mingling of the two. It’s one of the reasons we decided England just wasn’t for us. Bone up on your Thomas Jefferson.

Two: Your second point is invalid, as the separation of church and state does NOT say that people of faith have no role in the public square. People of faith have every right to civic and public involvement, and any notion that people of faith are somehow kept out of the public square is just straight lunacy. See many atheists running our government, do you Mr. Santorum? Your brand of Christianity already has too much of a role in our government for comfort, and to hear you claim otherwise shows how capable you are of ignoring reality.

You have it backwards, and you need to learn: the idea that the church can have influence and involvement over the operation of the government is antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country. People of faith, of all faiths, are welcome into the process. But the church is not.

Written by Christopher ZF

February 26, 2012 at 12:05

History Lesson for Rick Santorum

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TRC approved. From Salon.

As Madison argued in a 1788 letter to Jefferson, religious fanaticism was as serious a danger to religious liberty as excessive state authority.  In his words, “rights of conscience” were undermined by “overbearing majorities” who were intent on advancing the interests of a particular “religious establishment.”  In plain and simple terms, the founders meant to protect individuals against excessive encroachments by church as well as state.

We might all wish to heed Madison’s further warning:  “It is a melancholy reflection that liberty should be equally exposed to danger whether the Government has too much or too little power.”  Religious liberty required the protection of state authority, in creating a barrier around the individual and guarding against intrusions from religious institutions.

The fact remains that President Obama is no more a French Revolutionary Jacobin than Jefferson or Madison.  It appears, in fact, that the president has a very clear understanding of religious liberty, appreciating the boundaries between church and state just as Madison intended.  His promptly conceived compromise solution, respecting religion without restricting rights, fits the balanced, reasonable approach our founders prescribed when they fought, state by state, to eliminate state funding and sanctioning (i.e., disestablishment) of privileged sects.

Written by Christopher ZF

February 14, 2012 at 16:37

Founding Scientists

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Some things that I like are: History, Science, and Politics. In fact, at TRC these are three of the world’s most interesting and important pursuits. So, though I have little to add here, I wanted to post about Science Progress’s question article by Thomas Moreno: Are We Still a Nation of Science?

Why present it here? It is delightful, and because I spend a lot of time (a lot being relative) arguing that the Founding Fathers were not the Christians that today’s American Christians make them out to be. In fact, I would argue that most of them would barely qualify for salvation under the broad conservative Protestant denominations of 21st century America (half surely would not make the cut). The founders were religious folks, it is true, but not solely. They were  also scientists, or at least, advocates for science.

Wondering whether scientists should engage in public debate and advocacy, Moreno writes:

There are many good reasons for science to be put on the front burner of our public agenda. More than fifty percent of our economic growth since World War II is attributable to science and technology; this is the best investment our country has made. And our scientists and engineers are the best possible advocates for reinvestment in innovation, especially considering the state of our economy.

But the very fact that American scientists feel the need to aggressively advocate for science conceal a bitter irony that the Times article failed to note: We once had a group of brilliant, influential and politically engaged leaders who were fascinated by science, wanted the country to be the world leader in the pursuit of new knowledge about the natural world, and in some cases even made original contributions.

They were called the founding fathers.

Starting with Franklin and Jefferson, and moving straight through the Revolutionary generation and beyond, the article gives a quick history of how the forces behind the greatness of America always supported, encouraged, and engaged in the sciences. Thomas Paine, for example, “theorized that there must be millions of worlds like ours millions of miles apart.” (Wonderfully spoken, Tom).

Then, argues Jonathon Moreno, modern biology arrived, and threw the whole narrative of science in the United States into disrepute. But surely we can overcome this hurdle, as reason continues to make clear that evolution is not false, and not such a terrible threat after all.

As the calls increase for United States to regain a leadership role in science and innovation and technology and space exploration and the whole endeavor, it seems useful to remember that the drive for science in society goes right back to the historical heart of the country.

Written by Christopher ZF

August 15, 2011 at 16:55