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A Postmortem on the Miers Nomination

A Triumph of Principle over Politics

In church life, it is an accepted axiom that “a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.” In other words, a lack of spiritual substance in the pew is often a symptom of something that’s wrong in the pulpit. In the same way, conservative critics of Harriet Miers saw a nominee whose conservative bona fides could not be verified by her record. In the last several weeks, her misty record has looked more and more like a fog in the nominee.

Just this week Miers’s speeches from the 1990’s have revealed a nominee who sounds more like a libertarian than a conservative. Addressing the Executive Women of Dallas in 1993 she said, “The ongoing debate continues surrounding the attempt to once again criminalize abortions or to once and for all guarantee the freedom of the individual women’s [sic] right to decide for herself whether she will have an abortion” (source). “Criminalizing abortions” is not the rhetoric of conservatism, and conservative opponents of Miers’s nomination have found this speech in particular to be “misty” to say the least.

This is not to say that conservatives have been clamoring all this time for a nominee who would be a rank political hack. As a matter of fact, the protest from the president’s base has not been that Harriet Miers lacks qualifications as a political or religious conservative. Indeed, the record has shown that she is both a loyal adviser to a very conservative President and an openly Evangelical Christian. But this was not the kind of conservatism that the base was looking for in a nominee.

What the president’s base has most desired in a nominee is not merely political or religious conservatism, but an open and identifiable commitment to judicial conservatism. That is, a thoroughgoing dedication to interpreting the United States Constitution according to the framers original intent. For this reason, Marvin Olasky’s reflections on this nomination are relevant: “I really want an originalist. If I could be assured that an atheist would be an originalist, that would be fine with me. If an evangelical nominee wanted to put in the Constitution what’s not there, I’d oppose him or her.”

In the absence of clear evidence of Miers’s commitment to originalism, to have allowed this nomination to go forward merely on the word of the President may have kept a political coalition together, but it would not have served the cause of conservative judicial reform. That is why the withdrawal of this nomination represents more than anything else the triumph of principle over politics.

The administration put the hard sell on the base (including evangelical Christians) to support this nomination. Their arguments, however, were not based on any clear record of Miers’s conservative judicial philosophy, but on the trust that conservatives should have in the President’s ability to make sound judicial appointments. In other words, the President asked his base to believe him and to stay loyal to him even though there really was nothing else for them to go on.

Christians who want to maintain a prophetic voice in the public square cannot make this kind of a faith commitment to any politician. This is not to say that President Bush is not trustworthy. As a matter of fact, I happen to think that he is. I am in the main a staunch supporter of President Bush in large part because of his proven commitment to appointing judicial conservatives to the federal bench. Nevertheless loyalty to principle must always trump loyalty to politicians. When the two come into conflict, the only way for Christians to remain salt and light is to let principle win out—no matter who the politician is.

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“The Abortion Debate No One Wants to Have”

Patricia E. Bauer with her husband, Edward Muller, and their children, Margaret and Johnny Muller, in June at Margaret’s high school graduation in Massachusetts.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Christina Overland

Patricia E. Bauer, former Washington Post reporter and bureau chief, writes a stunningly pro-life Op-Ed today titled “The Abortion Debate No One Wants to Have.” The article discusses whether it is right to abort a baby simply because pre-natal testing confirms that the baby has a disability. In Bauer’s case, the issue is intensely personal because she is raising a daughter named Margaret who has Down syndrome. She writes this about her daughter:

Margaret is a person and a member of our family. She has my husband’s eyes, my hair and my mother-in-law’s sense of humor. We love and admire her because of who she is — feisty and zesty and full of life — not in spite of it. She enriches our lives. If we might not have chosen to welcome her into our family, given the choice, then that is a statement more about our ignorance than about her inherent worth.

What I don’t understand is how we as a society can tacitly write off a whole group of people as having no value. I’d like to think that it’s time to put that particular piece of baggage on the table and talk about it, but I’m not optimistic. People want what they want: a perfect baby, a perfect life. To which I say: Good luck. Or maybe, dream on.

And here’s one more piece of un-discussable baggage: This question is a small but nonetheless significant part of what’s driving the abortion discussion in this country. I have to think that there are many pro-choicers who, while paying obeisance to the rights of people with disabilities, want at the same time to preserve their right to ensure that no one with disabilities will be born into their own families. The abortion debate is not just about a woman’s right to choose whether to have a baby; it’s also about a woman’s right to choose which baby she wants to have.

This is a great Op-Ed. I hope you make time to read the whole thing.

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Flu Pandemic: The Biggest Story in the News

As far as I’m concerned, the story about a possible flu pandemic is the biggest story in the news right now.

The Wall Street Journal has run an insightful Op-Ed on the topic today titled “Reasons to Be Fearful: We are ill-prepared for a flu pandemic” by Henry I. Miller. Last week, Charles Krauthammer wrote a chilling piece on the subject in the Washington Post titled “A Flu Hope, Or Horror?”

The common flu kills about 1% of those who contract it each year. The so-called “Bird Flu” kills 50%. If this particular flu virus mutates such that it can move from human to human with efficiency, then there could be a worldwide plague of epic proportions. One article that I read estimated that over a million people would die in the United States alone.

Some scientists are claiming that it is very likely to mutate so that it can transmit efficiently from human to human, but other scientists are less certain. Some scientists think that “Bird Flu” will be resistant to drugs like Tamiflu, others aren’t so sure.

One thing is for sure. We all need to be paying close attention to this story.

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Encouraging News about Harriet Miers?

World magazine’s blog has an encouraging set of entries on Harriet Miers. According to an interview with her good friend, Texas Supreme Court justice Nathan Hecht, she is an originalist in her approach to constitutional (and biblical!) interpretation.

The blog also reports that Miers is a committed evangelical Christian who is a regular tither to her church in Dallas and who holds the same position on abortion as the majority of other evangelicals in America.

As for reports that Miers donated money to Democrat candidates for President in the late 80’s, Hecht says, “If she did it, it was because [her law] firm made her do it.”

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Travesty: Abortion as Charity!

The Associated Press reports that the only abortion clinic in central Arkansas is offering free abortions to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Jerry Edwards says, “If we didn’t provide it now, they would get it later — a late-term abortion that would give greater risk to the mother’s health.” Dr. Edwards says he has already provided six free abortions that would normally cost between $525 and $600.

The abortion clinic is called “Little Rock Family Planning Services” and was featured in this past Sunday’s New York Times in an article titled “Under Din of Abortion Debate, an Experience Shared Quietly.” The Times article tells the tragic stories of a number of women who came there to take the life of their unborn babies. Russell Moore and Al Mohler have both written fine responses to this article.

We should all be scandalized, however, at this latest AP report. Has our society really sunk so low that people now think the free termination of our children to be a charitable work? Not only does this compound the tragedy of abortion on demand in our country, but it also adds to the misery of these women, some of whom will likely experience the profound trauma of regret and heart-break that often follows abortion.

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Scopes Monkey Trial 2: Intelligent Design on Trial

The New York Times reports today about an upcoming court case in Pennsylvania.

“Advocates on both sides of the issue have lined up behind the case, often calling it Scopes II, in reference to the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial that was the last century’s great face-off over evolution.

“On the evolutionists’ side is a legal team put together by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. These groups want to put intelligent design itself on trial and discredit it so thoroughly that no other school board would dare authorize teaching it.

“Witold J. Walczak, legal director of the A.C.L.U. of Pennsylvania, said the plaintiffs would call six experts in history, theology, philosophy of science and science to show that no matter the perspective, ‘intelligent design is not science because it does not meet the ground rules of science, is not based on natural explanations, is not testable’” (source).

The report also says that Michael Behe will be the star witness for the defense.

I say, let the debate begin in earnest. I think the evolutionists are going to be surprised at the sophistication of the opposing arguments—arguments that they were hoping they and the public could ignore.

“A Web of Faith, Law and Science in Evolution Suit,” by Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, September 26, 2005

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L.B.J. and Senator Russell Long after Hurricane Betsy

Lyndon Johnson and Senator Russell Long of Louisiana peer out of Air Force One in 1965 to survey the damage done by Hurricane Betsy. – Yoichi R. Okamoto / Lyndon Baines Johnson Library

NBC News Anchorman Brian Williams provides a glimpse into how Lyndon Johnson used a trip to New Orleans after Hurricane Betsy in 1965 for political advantage. This is a gem of an Op-Ed. Go check it out. It’s titled “L.B.J.’s Political Hurricane.”

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Disappointed with Russert, et al.

It’s not just the partisans who are rushing to judgment about who to blame for the catastrophic aftermath of Katrina. The clear thrust of mainstream media reporting has been to lay the blame for the crisis in New Orleans at the feet of the Bush administration.

The default assumption in the media appears to be that if there was a failure of rescue operations, then the failure was a federal one. No reporter that I have seen has come up with a line of questioning that would insinuate a failure on the part of the Louisiana governor or the New Orleans mayor (I’ve mainly been watching CNN, NBC, and MSNBC’s coverage). The questions seem to be pushing toward an indictment of President Bush.

This situation is rather remarkable given that we know so little about the big picture at this point. We do know that an evacuation of the city of New Orleans before a storm was the job of state and local officials. How is it that the mainstream media see the failure to evacuate as a failure at the federal level?

We may find out at some point that something went awry with the federal response, but why do reporters just assume that to be the case when it seems like the default position would be to see this as a shortcoming of the state and local governments? It appears that the media intends to treat the Bush administration as guilty until proven innocent.

Today’s episode of NBC’s “Meet the Press” is emblematic of what’s been happening in most of the coverage that I’ve seen up to this point. Tim Russert grilled the Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, while a Louisiana state officials got off fairly easily.

Tim Russert:

“Mr. Secretary, are you or anyone who reports to you contemplating resignation? . . .

“Well, many Americans believe now is the time for accountability. The Republican governor of Massachusetts said, ‘We are an embarrassment to the world.’ The Republican senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, said that you deserve a grade of F, flunk. How would you grade yourself? . . .

“People were stunned by a comment the president of the United States made on Wednesday, Mr. Secretary. He said, ‘I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.’ How could the president be so wrong, be so misinformed? . . .

“Your Web site says that your department assumes primary responsibility for a national disaster. If you knew a hurricane 3 storm was coming, why weren’t buses, trains, planes, cruise ships, trucks provided on Friday, Saturday, Sunday to evacuate people before the storm? . . .” (source)

The secretary tries to explain to Tim Russert how disaster relief works under the law.

Secretary Chertoff:

“Tim, the way that emergency operations act under the law is the responsibility and the power, the authority, to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials. The federal government comes in and supports those officials” (source).

But Tim does not even acknowledge the secretary’s answer or that responsibility for any failures could be distributed outside the federal government.

Tim goes on to allow Mike Tidwell (a global warming activist and campaigner for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race, which is not disclosed by Russert) to grandstand about how George Bush is responsible not only for the aftermath of Katrina, but also for similar environmental hazards in all U.S. coastal cities.

“But the really final big story here is that the Bush administration is failing on another level to hear warning signs and take credible evidence that there’s dire problems. The Bush administration itself–its own studies say that we will in this century turn every coastal city in America into a New Orleans. Why? Because we got three feet of subsidence, sinking,in south Louisiana in the 20th century because of the levees. Right now, because of global climate change, the Bush administration’s own studies say we will get between one and three feet of sea level rise worldwide because of our use of fossil fuels.

“The big, big, big take-away message here is: New Orleans is the future of Miami, New York, San Diego, every coastal city in the world, because whether the land sinks three feet and you get a bowl in a hurricane like this, or sea level rises worldwide, same problem. We have got to address this energy problem that David mentioned. We have an irrational energy problem” (source).

Tim offers no challenge whatsoever to Tidwell, even though Tidwell admits that opportunities to address dangers in New Orleans go back to 1995 when Bill Clinton was president. That Tidwell lays the blame solely at the feet of the Bush administration and not to the previous Democrat administration shows his partisan bent.

That political opportunists have politicized this calamity is unconscionable. That the mainstream media facilitates this politicization is even worse because they have such an impact on shaping public opinion.

I am hoping that a clear picture will emerge in the coming days. Until then, I remain disappointed with Tim Russert and others like him who are jumping on the blame-Bush bandwagon. I think the wiser course would be to reserve judgment until we understand what really has happened. There will be plenty of time to analyze the failures that may have occurred at all levels of government—local, state, and federal.

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Kanye West’s Race-Baiting Tirade

Hip-hop star Kanye West went on a tirade during NBC’s disaster relief fundraiser tonight. West and Michael Myers were paired together during a segment so that they could appeal to a nationwide TV audience to donate money to the Red Cross. After Michael Myers opened with a few remarks, Kanye West began a meandering monologue that was clearly not written on his cue card and was very difficult to understand. However, a few things came through loud and clear.

First, West made the outlandish claim that the government had given the troops in New Orleans permission to shoot black people. Second, he accused the media of racist coverage, alleging that reporters are saying that black families are looting while white families are just looking for food. Third, West punctuated his screed with an low-blow against the President: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” (the Washington Post has the entire exchange here).

I fear that West has been drinking deeply from the propaganda of the race-baiters who have been trying to exploit this tragedy for their own ends. For instance, consider Al Sharpton’s accusation on Keith Olbermann’s program just last night: “And the real question is not only those that didn‘t get out. The question is why has it taken the government so long to get in. I feel that, if it was in another area, with another economic strata and racial makeup, that President Bush would have run out of Crawford a lot quicker and FEMA would have found its way in a lot sooner” (source).

Consider also how Jesse Jackson criticized the federal response to the disaster: “How can blacks be locked out of the leadership, and trapped in the suffering? It is that lack of sensitivity and compassion that represents a kind of incompetence. . . There’s a historical indifference to the pain of poor people and black people . . . [the new media has] criminalized the people of New Orleans” by focusing on violence in the city (source).

So you see, Kanye West didn’t say anything that these race-baiters haven’t been saying all week. But West’s remarks do reveal just how reckless the rhetoric of the Jacksons and the Sharptons can be. What should have been a non-partisan appeal to the better angels of American nature turned into a counter-productive blame game.

Nevermind the fifty-percent of Americans who would take great offense at West’s parroted accusations. Nevermind the fact that such remarks might disincline some from contributing to the Red Cross disaster-relief fund. Just blame Bush and exploit the tragedy for partisan advantage. That does not sound very compassionate to me.

NBC tried to recover the good will of its viewers with the following statement that was released after the concert:

“Kanye West departed from the scripted comments that were prepared for him, and his opinions in no way represent the views of the networks. It would be most unfortunate if the efforts of the artists who participated tonight and the generosity of millions of Americans who are helping those in need are overshadowed by one person’s opinion” (source).

I am not saying that the south doesn’t have serious racial issues to confront. Believe me, we do. And I am certain I will have more to write on that topic later. But tonight, I am just troubled by the irresponsible, inflammatory statements made by West.

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New Orleans: Then and Now

I was struck this morning when NBC’s Today Show offered glowing and nostalgic remembrances of how great New Orleans was before the hurricane. The parties, the good times, the food, and the music. According to the Today Show’s reporting, New Orleans was a virtual heaven on earth—a true American original.

I have to say, however, that as a native Louisianan, I don’t think that description of pre-hurricane New Orleans really rings true. Yes, it is true that the city had its charms, but it also had its challenges, the kinds of challenges that are routinely overlooked by reveling tourists.

I could relate story after story about how difficult the city really was before Katrina. I could tell you about how my friend Dr. Charlie Draper’s wife got caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out while pumping gas into her car across the street from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I could tell you about my former associate pastor who barely escaped being accosted by a group of homosexual men. Or I could tell you about my wife’s cousin who was shot to death by hoodlums who wanted to steal his walkman.

But these anecdotes do not comprise the sole reason for my impression of the city. It is a matter of public record that the city had a crime rate that was ten-times the national average. All of this is just an indicator of underlying problems that the outsider usually doesn’t notice.

Nicole Gelinas summed it up today in a penetrating essay titled “Will New Orleans Recover? Weak and struggling before Katrina, the good-time city now teeters on the brink.” She writes,

The truth is that even on a normal day, New Orleans is a sad city. Sure, tourists think New Orleans is fun: you can drink and hop from strip club to strip club all night on Bourbon Street, and gamble all your money away at Harrah’s. But the city’s decline over the past three decades has left it impoverished and lacking the resources to build its economy from within. New Orleans can’t take care of itself even when it is not 80 percent underwater; what is it going to do now, as waters continue to cripple it, and thousands of looters systematically destroy what Katrina left unscathed? . . .

The city’s government has long suffered from incompetence and corruption. Just weeks before Katrina, federal officials indicted associates of the former mayor, Marc Morial, for alleged kickbacks and contract fraud. Morial did nothing to attract diversified private investment to his impoverished city during the greatest economic boom of the modern era. . .

New Orleans teems with crime, and the NOPD can’t keep order on a good day. Former commissioner Richard Pennington brought New Orleans’ crime rate down from its peak during the mid-1990s. But since Pennington’s departure, crime rates have soared, to ten times the national average. The NOPD might have hundreds of decent officers, but it has a well-deserved institutional image as corrupt, brutal, and incompetent.

How will New Orleans’ economy recover from Katrina? Apart from some pass-through oil infrastructure, the city’s economy is utterly dependent on tourism. After the city’s mainstay oil industry decamped to Texas nearly a generation ago, New Orleans didn’t do the difficult work of cutting crime, educating illiterate citizens, and attracting new industries to the city. New Orleans became merely a convention and tourism economy, selling itself to visitors to survive, and over time it has only increased its economic dependence on outsiders. The fateful error of that strategy will become clearer in the next few months. . .

New Orleans has experienced a steady brain drain and fiscal drain for decades, as affluent corporations and individuals have fled, leaving behind a large population of people dependent on the government. Socially, New Orleans is one of America’s last helpless cities—just at the moment when it must do all it can to help itself survive.

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