Government Shutdowns: Moments of Insanity?

We should stop criticizing government shutdowns and start thinking about what the shutdowns tell us.

Our government inflicts us with pain all the time.  The recent government shutdown is the most accessible example of such pain.  This kind of discomfort is so repulsive because it happens without our consent, which leads us to mistrust the responsiveness of our American government.  And for good reason:

In a shutdown, well over 800,000 non-essential federal employees don’t know when they’ll receive their next paycheck.  In turn, the rest of us are left to deal with life under a temporarily incompetent, unresponsive federal government.  A lot of uncomfortable stuff happens and the government doesn’t seem to care.

We think situations like these shouldn’t happen in America.  If a government is by the people and for the people, as Lincoln pointed out, the people should never be angry about what the government does.  It should people-please; yet the vast majority of people aren’t pleased with government shutdowns.

Why do shutdowns like this happen in America?

A shutdown happens when Congress cannot agree on a budget before the start of the new fiscal year.    The Constitution and the law do not punish the government if it inconveniences the people with a shutdown.   Instead, Congressmen, as essential employees, still get paid.  And they are still given the responsibility to pass the budget.

The idea is, in a representative government, the representatives do not need legal punishment.  The ballot box is the Congressional cattle-prod.  All Congressmen, unless considering retirement, want to keep their jobs: they either enjoy the distinction that comes with it or want to continue their good influence in Congress.  Sure, legislators must respond well to organized interests who have lots of money, but at the end of the day, the right votes, not the right number of dollars, keeps someone in office.  The one sure way to keep their jobs is to pay attention to the input, opinions, and demands of their constituents.  A representative who does not have one eye in Washington and the other in his district is sure to jeopardize his seat.  So, they need no legal repercussions; we as voters also serve as the punishers.

This accountability mechanism, termed the ‘electoral incentive,’ means that if the representative does stuff in office that his voters disapprove of, it will show in the next election — with his unemployment.  With this in mind, the budget deadlock we just witnessed shows that some Congressmen held to the deep-seated conviction that a shutdown is better than its alternative (in this case, ObamaCare fully-funded), risking their seats in the process.

Does a shutdown like the one we just experienced successfully prevent its alternative?

Americans surely don’t think so: they tend to blame those on the other side for the pain they feel.  They ignore the risky signaling that’s taking place, and consider partisan actions that eventually force a shutdown rash, imprudent, and hopeless.

Americans in general agree that Congress was most to blame during the shutdown, which lessens Congress’ power to be successful.  Shutdown polls declare that the people blamed Republicans rather than Democrats and President Obama.  But notice that the polls tend to lump President Obama and Democrats into one category, which does not account for the consistently higher approval ratings of the President with respect to Congress.  In the end, Congress, not the president, will seem even more blameworthy.

With success falling out of sight, what were Republicans in Congress thinking by forcing a shutdown?  What response were they trying to invoke?

All government shutdowns anticipate pain and anger, but they communicate gravity. A shutdown communicates that the alternative is a more painful than itself. If we feel pains, we should assume something significant is happening.

Even further, In light of the fact that the Republican Party forced a similar government shutdown in 1995, when conditions were better, and had to deal with heavy repercussions, it is safe to assume that Republicans are definitely risking similarly punishing outcomes.  They have communicated a grave issue indeed.

Perhaps the gravity of the situation ran deeper than funding or defunding ObamaCare.  Perhaps they feared that such a law will instill dangerous ideas about the nature and purpose of health insurance.  Or, beyond health insurance, they feared that the law will feed the growing appetite for entitlements and instantaneous gratification that threatens the generous and selfless side of today’s America.

Must we merely complain about our pain?  No.  We should listen to the problem the pain communicates.  Look beyond the discomfort to its source; then consider why the cause is weighty enough to inflict the pain you feel.

In American government, pain is not weakness leaving the body.  The pain leaving the legislative body (and coming down to us) signals graver, more threatening, weaknesses in ourselves and our nation.

US Policy on Syria: Courage or Cowardice

Press releases from the UN, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and even the front lines of Syria itself, universally signaling Syria’s present instability, make one thing clear:  Syria’s future is not clear.   Should the world do anything to improve this situation?  Or should we cowardly sit back and watch Syria burn?  If world leaders, like the US, have the ability to control situations like this, shouldn’t they also have the responsibility to courageously improve it?

The civil war that now rages in Syria started two years ago when civilian protests and military suppression quickly escalated into bloodbaths killing thousands on both sides.  America quickly took an official but under-committed stand with the rebels, and on September 21, 2013 the whole world resounded with the cry to end Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people.

The reason world powers, like the US, have not come to Syria’s aid is clearer than Syria’s uncertain future.  The conflict that rages within has two divisions:

1) The rebels against the government.  The civilians despise the way Assad brutally mistreats them.  They have therefore taken up arms against him and his regime.

2) The rebels against themselves.  Up until a few days ago the rebellion groups, representing the hostile and diverse nature of Syria itself, fought each other with the same fervor they used against Assad.  For now rebellion groups have framed an alliance contract evidently undersigned by the leadership of 75% of Syrian rebellion forces.

There is little hope for a positive outcome from US intervention.  The US must justified its intervention before it actually intervenes.  Just as the UN employed moral justification to commit to the destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons, so too could America justify supporting the rebels on moral grounds, by saying “We protect human life.”

But support a side in Syria does not necessarily protect more lives than the current status quo.  Allying with Assad sends the message that the US cares little for human rights. Assad’s utter indifference for the lives of Syrians sparked the rebellion in the first place.  But allying with the coalition of rebellion forces promises more evils than it remedies.  The rebels’ present alliance in opposition to Assad paints over the rebel differences but does not make those differences disappear.  There is no reason to believe that giving the rebels the victory they want will result in respect for human life.  But there is much reason to believe it will result in a more vicious and sectarian civil war over Syrian power.  The US and other world powers must either leave things as they are or risk worse upheaval and bloodshed by intervening.

We should not charge America with abandoning its courage by choosing not to seek justice against Assad’s violations of human rights.  Such a charge demands a bad form of courage.  In the words of G. K Chesterton, “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms.  It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.”  Yes, the US must be willing to risk life in order to preserve life, even Syrian life.  Nevertheless, as Chesterton points out, courage as a principle has two extremes that are not courage:  living for nothing and dying for nothing.  That is, courage is the midpoint between the two extremes timidity and rashness.  Thus, present conditions matter just as much as the intended end result.  As Obama articulated so clearly to the UN, “The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage, as nation-states and members of an international community, to squarely meet those challenges; whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.”  America has not abandoned courage to stand up for justice in Syria, but it has abandoned “courage” pursued unwisely through rash, unclear decision-making.

The present situation, therefore, stays as it is.  The temptations to err on the side of foolhardiness or faintheartedness also remain.  External pressures discourage the US from true courage by reminding us of an obligation to virtue.  They say that America has the power to both envision and realize a more positive future for Syria.  And that power should not be left untapped.

Still, the idea that we can guarantee an improved future is a self-deception.  The United States can do nothing to ensure Syria’s future improvement.  The future is always unclear, though marginally predictable.  Our work as humans is not to enforce a re-envisioned future, but live excellently given the conditions present to us. Perhaps being a courageous world leader is less about what you do and more about when and how you do what you do. We must pursue good decisions not decisions that try to show how good we are.

We, as well as the people of Syria, must be courageous enough not to be tight-fisted, white-knuckled humans preoccupied with the future’s vast unknown.  Rather we should allow the present realization of our own helplessness, even smallness, lead us to trust in a God that both orchestrates and improves.

To best safeguard our future we must begin with our limited influence upon it.  The temptation to seek justice badly is too great for us to presume clear vision.  We alone cannot see; therefore let us be bold enough to trust in the One who does.

Weekly Roundup

Note from the editor:  Evangelical Outpost has nothing to say or share about Miley Cyrus or “twerking.”  That is all.

 

From First Things:  Buzzfeed as a Cultural Battleground.

***

A startling (to some) new development in the Syria affair: U.K. Parliament Votes Against Syria Resolution as U.S. Ponders Going Solo.

***

Gay marriage activists have long mocked the silly, reactionary notion of a “slippery slope” from their position towards an acceptance of other formerly “taboo” relationships.  They have assured opponents that there is absolutely no connection between acceptance of gay marriage and, for example, acceptance of polyamory.

In a totally unrelated story, BBC asks (non-judgmentally, of course): How does a polyamorous relationship between four people work?

***

Wise words from Pastor Kevin DeYoung:  The Preacher at His Best.

***

Everyone In The TV Industry Is Passing Around This Speech By Kevin Spacey:  “It’s all content. It’s just story”

***

Matt Walsh has some advice for young people:  Kids, go to college or you’ll die alone in misery.  #BlatantSarcasm

***

In light of all the recent hullabaloo over “Millennials” leaving the church, here’s an interesting (and overlooked) question:  Why Aren’t Black Millennials Leaving the Church?

***

Bonhoeffer saw a fierce battle in his time between Christianity & “Germanism”.  Are we approaching a similar point in America?: America’s Good Servant, But God’s First?

***

A friendly rejoinder to Thabiti Anyabwile’s recent article at The Gospel Coalition from Ron Belgau at First Things:  The Problem with the “Gag Reflex.”

***

Behold, the greatest Kitchen appliance of all time:

han fridge

 

 

No On David Michaels: A Chance to End the Sale of Science

When scientific evidence becomes a commodity, it is cheapened and easily misused, making it difficult for anyone to sort life-saving facts from fiction.  Remember this story about the “scientifically based” scare tactics used to market Bisphenol A -free plastics?  Thanks to the efforts of Fenton Communications, the liberal marketing firm behind the “General Betray Us” campaign, BPA has a bad reputation, especially among parents who worry the chemical may harm their children.  These parents pay exorbitant prices for BPA-free products, despite the fact that numerous independent studies have proven the chemical’s safety.  Many of these more expensive products come from BornFree, the company that hired Fenton Communications.  BornFree makes money every time the BPA controversy comes up in the news; they benefit from phony scientific evidence.

Unfortunately, we may see more of this in the near future.

An editorial in yesterday’s Washington Times highlights David Michaels, President Obama’s nominee to head the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).

The Times describes Mr. Michaels as “a virulently anti-business epidemiologist” who “is one the nation’s foremost proponents of allowing junk science to be used in jackpot-justice lawsuits.”

It turns out David Michaels was also behind the anti-BPA junk-science scare campaign which has cost Americans untold numbers of jobs and has lined the pockets of trial lawyers with millions of dollars from the pockets of hard-working parents who bought into his fear campaign.

Mr. Michaels has admitted that the phony-science racket works well for sellers:

“Tobacco figured this out, and essentially it’s the same model,” said David Michaels, who was a federal regulator in the Clinton administration. “If you fight the science, you’re able to postpone regulation and victim compensation, as well. As in this case, eventually the science becomes overwhelming. But if you can get five or 10 years of avoiding pollution control or production of chemicals, you’ve greatly increased your product.”

No one benefits when science is prostituted in this way. Everyone loses when scientific evidence can be bought and sold as a commodity because this weakens even the most legitimate findings, making it difficult to distinguish between real and invented dangers.

President Obama has pledged to “restore science to its rightful place”, and happily his administration now has a perfect opportunity to do so.  The Senate must help end the lucrative sale of scientific claims by rejecting David Michaels’ nomination to head OSHA. ‘

Around the Horn: Joe Biden for Vice-President

If elected president, Barack Obama has chosen Joe Biden to assume the office of President should something happen to Obama.
Media outlets are buzzing with stories on Obama, Biden, and Obama-Biden. Here is a quick trip around the horn:
The Trumpet Resounds:
Alexander Burns and John F. Harris provide a sketch of Biden for those unfamiliar with him or his record.
Trumpeting from the Right:
Hugh Hewitt agree’s with the assessment of Biden that he is the “stupid person’s idea of a smart person’s candidate.” Hewitt argues that picking Biden means that, “Obama has added to his unsteady candidacy an epic amount Beltway cluelessness and arrogance unsupported by anything except frequent flier miles and Delaware’s love for a chuckle-headed fellow with a big smile.” Cliff the Mail Man for Vice-President.
Proving that he understands the language of Obama’s core support demographic, Washington Post On Faith columnist and Scriptorium Daily contributor John Mark Reynolds says “LOL” to Obama’s seemingly unwise choice. Noting the unique role that a Vice-President can play, Reynold’s says, “You look all over America able to choose the person (other than yourself) most fit to be President of the United States. It is a primary with one voter and you can choose your own Socrates, since he need not win over the masses.” Instead of choosing Socrates, Obama chose Empedocles.
The editors at National Review Online question whether Obama’s choice of Biden for VP leaves any hope for change in Washington.
Trumpeting from the Left:
Mike Allen quotes Obama spokesperson Linda Douglass who attempts to refute the notion that Biden eliminates any hope for change in Washington. According to Douglass, “”He’s stared down dictators all around the world. He has decades of experience in Washington and, yet, uniquely, he is not of Washington…He is the perfect person you could try to find to get away from the failed policies of the Bush administration. He is an independent thinker. Joe Biden, as you well know, has never been at a loss for words.”
At the Daily Kos they see Biden as a strong choice for Obama. Noting that Obama did not merely want a “yes man” Kos references this Obama quote, “I want somebody who is independent. Somebody who is able to say to me, ‘you know what, Mr. President, I think you’re wrong on this and here’s why’ and will give me (applause) who will help me think through major issues and consult with me, would be a key advisor.” Joe Biden certainly does not seem to be one who would merely say “yes.”
Finally, James P. Rubin argues that Joe Biden is the right man at the right time. According to Rubin, Biden’s “foreign policy experience and wisdom are unmatched in American politics. There is no one in Congress who has been around as long, who understands the international realities better, or whose judgment has proven sounder than Joe Biden’s.”
Blowing My Own Horn
Barack Obama’s VP pick confirms my suspicion that Barack Obama is the biggest thing in his universe. Biden has useful political experience and foreign policy gravitas, but his gaffe prone long-windedness and his inability to excite more than 1% of Democrat voters in this last primary means that he will not overshadow Obama. While it is commendable of Barack Obama to pursue someone who would not be a “yes man,” especially in the area of foreign policy, there seem to be other individuals who fit this bill. Why did Obama not choose Bill Richardson whose has as much political gravitas as Biden with a much more diverse resume and who would have put the battle ground state of New Mexico in play?
McCain supporters have reason to be of good cheer.
Dustin Steeve is a graduate of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. Dustin worked as an Assistant Producer for the Hugh Hewitt Show and was also the Administrative Editor for the ScriptoriumDaily.com.

The Greatest Speech on Race (Ever Written By a White Guy?)

Yesterday Senator Barack Obama gave an impassioned and heartfelt speech on race in America. After reading the text online my first reaction was, “Great speech…I wonder who wrote it.”
Now if that wasn’t your first thought it’s probably a sign that you don’t live in Washington, D.C.
Wait? You thought Obama wrote it himself? Well, I suppose that’s not outside the realm of possibility. And I suspect he did throw in an anecdote and had a hand in adding a line or two. But wrote the whole thing himself? Extremely unlikely.
What is more probable is that the Great Race Speech was written by the “baby faced, 26-year-old white guy” Jon Favreau, the Obama campaign’s head speechwriter. (Ironic, isn’t it, that such a lauded speech on race was most likely written by a Liberal White Dude?) Favreau has become something of a star because of his ability to put words in Obama’s mouth. After the Illinois Senator gave his victory speech in Iowa, Michael Gerson, the conservative former speechwriter for George W. Bush, complimented Favreau on his great work. And rightly so.
Still, there is something unseemly about the practice, even if it is an open secret. In most of America, if you take someone else’s words and pass them off as your own it’s called plagiarism and it’s considered a heinous breach of ethics. In D.C. if you take someone else’s words and pass them off as your own it’s called ghostwriting and it’s considered the way business is done. Everyone in town acknowledges that, unless the person is part of the professional class of scribes, most big-wigs in D.C. aren’t writing their own material. Indeed, if you want to stump a politico in Washington, ask them about something they wrote in their latest op-ed. They’ll need to have some twenty-something staffer “remind” them of what they supposedly wrote.
(Fortunately, Christians are above this sort of chicanery. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2) When we put our name on a work and give the audience the impression we wrote it then it means we wrote it…right?)
But my concern is not that politicians and other Beltway insiders lipsync the tunes produced by unacknowledged wordsmiths. What bothers me is that we watch some politician read someone else’s words off of a teleprompter and then fawn over their speech as if we just witnessed the oratorical pyrotechnics of a a Cicero or Churchill .
Technical excellence in delivering a speech is certainly a notable, albeit minor, skill. But if we are moved by the brilliance of the rhetoric why do we not lavish our praise on the person that actually produced the words and ideas? In other words, why do we swoon for the dummy rather than the ventriloquist?

Super Tuesday Too:
Reflections on the OH and TX Primaries

The Longest Two Months— While it seems like an eternity has passed, the Iowa Caucus was only 60 days ago. Fortunately this is the last of the significant primaries and the race has been decided on one side and all but determined on the other.
Congrats to McCain — If winning makes you look smarter, then campaign manager Rick Davis appears to be a genius. He laid out McCain’s Path to Victory in December and found a way to make it a reality.
Thanks, Governor Huckabee — I have many reasons to be thankful for Governor Huckabee’s inspiring Presidential run. But there are three other groups who should also be grateful for Mike Huckabee: social conservatives who lacked a voice in the primaries, supporters of John McCain, and Republicans.
If the Republican’s hold the White House next year, Huckabee will deserve partial credit. By winning in Iowa, Huckabee derailed Romney’s campaign and prevented the Massachusetts Governor’s long march toward an inevitable electoral debacle. Huckabee also managed to keep many conservative evangelicals and other members of the traditionalist wing of the party engaged in the race. Their support for McCain may be listless, but Huckabee gave them hope that it may be too soon to give up on the GOP.
An Inevitable Obamination? Maybe Not. — After the Florida primary I wrote, “An Obama/Anyone ticket would be a disaster for McCain.” I still pessimistic enough to believe that it’s likely, though I’m hopeful that the abomination of an Obama presidency is not yet inevitable. I’m even starting to see signs that such a disaster may be averted. The reason: people are starting to listen to what Obama says.
Take, for instance, his NAFTA-bashing which has caused our neighbors to the north to worried about the “rhetoric of protectionism.” Even Andrew Sullivan, who swoons at the mention of Obama, said the NAFTA pander was “Not his finest hour.” (Yes it’s a tepid response and yes we all know that if Obama wins that Sullivan will spend the next four years regretting his support (as he did with Bush), but still, any relenting from his incessant Obamafawning is a huge concession.)
Obama has an uncanny ability to inspire in people an audacious hope for the impossible (Example: “The philosophy guy said that he almost always votes for Republican, but he’s for Obama this time, although he can’t quite explain why. His hope is that Obama will govern like a Republican.”) But I’m hopeful that such people will set aside such nonsense and eventually realize that while Obama sounds like a cross between Cicero and The Rock, what he’s saying is nothing more than rehashed discredited liberalism.
Rush to Idiocy — So Rush Limbaugh is urging people to vote for Hillary. Hugh Hewitt is aghast (“If Hillary ekes out close wins, stays alive, gains the nomination and the White House, will Rush hold the Bible at her Inauguration?”) but I can’t say that I’m really surprised. Rush is an entertainer and for all the hype about his ratings, his audience isn’t that large by show business standards (he has half the audience of Fox’s reality show Moment of Truth). He needs a Clinton presidency to remain relevant and give people a reason to tune in to his daily gasbaggery.
Still, I refuse to believe it worked. I refuse to believe that Republicans in Ohio and Texas are voting for Hillary in the primary because some radio clown told them it was the optimal strategy. I refuse to believe it because (a) the fact that McCain is the nominee shows that Rush is not that influential and (b) Republicans can’t be that stupid. (While I’m certain about (a) could I be wrong about (b)?)
I agree with Lars Walker: “It seems to me that if you love this country you’ve got to hold the electoral process in a kind of reverence. The fact that there are cynical people out there who game the system doesn’t justify us, the people who say we believe in moral absolutes, in pretending to belong to a different party so we can sabotage its nomination process. If they did it to us, I’d be angry about it.”
Say it ain’t so, Republicans; say you didn’t stoop that low.
The Most Significant Number — In 2004, Ohio proved to be the key state for President Bush’s reelection victory. In a tight race, Bush beat John Kerry in the Buckeye State by 118,457 votes. So how does it look four years later? With 81% of the precincts in Ohio reporting, the Democratic candidates received 1,745,199 votes while the Republicans received less than half that amount — 867,000.
If the GOP is relying on a victory in Ohio to shift the Red-Blue divide toward McCain then we’re in serious trouble.