Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Reading

Religious Test — Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, takes on Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin has found a new opponent to debate: John F. Kennedy.

In her new book, “America by Heart,” Palin objects to my uncle’s famous 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, in which he challenged the ministers – and the country – to judge him, a Catholic presidential candidate, by his views rather than his faith. “Contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president,” Kennedy said. “I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic.”

Palin writes that when she was growing up, she was taught that Kennedy’s speech had “succeeded in the best possible way: It reconciled public service and religion without compromising either.” Now, however, she says she has revisited the speech and changed her mind. She finds it “defensive . . . in tone and content” and is upset that Kennedy, rather than presenting a reconciliation of his private faith and his public role, had instead offered an “unequivocal divorce of the two.”

Palin’s argument seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office. A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not.

If there is no religious test, then there is no need for a candidate’s religious affiliation to be “reconciled.” My uncle urged that religion be private, removed from politics, because he feared that making faith an arena for public contention would lead American politics into ill-disguised religious warfare, with candidates tempted to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.

Kennedy cited Thomas Jefferson to argue that, as part of the American tradition, it was essential to keep any semblance of a religious test out of the political realm. Best to judge candidates on their public records, their positions on war and peace, jobs, poverty, and health care. No one, Kennedy pointed out, asked those who died at the Alamo which church they belonged to.

But Palin insists on evaluating and acting as an authority on candidates’ faith. She faults Kennedy for not “telling the country how his faith had enriched him.” With that line, she proceeds down a path fraught with danger – precisely the path my uncle warned against when he said that a president’s religious views should be “neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”

After all, a candidate’s faith will matter most to those who believe that they have the right to serve as arbiters of that faith. Is it worthy? Is it deep? Is it reflected in a certain ideology?

More below the fold.

Frank Rich — Obama held hostage.

We’re now at the brink of a new economic disaster that will eventually yank a chicken out of every pot. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that the extended Bush-era tax cuts will contribute by far the largest share to the next decade’s deficits — ahead of the recession’s drain on tax revenues, Iraq and Afghanistan war spending, TARP and Obama’s stimulus. The new Congress’s plan to block any governmental intervention on behalf of 15 million-plus jobless Americans guarantees that the unemployment rate, back up to 9.8 percent as of Friday, will remain intractable too.

Obama should have pounded home the case against profligate tax cuts for the wealthiest before the Democrats lost the Senate. Even now Warren Buffett — not a socialist, by the way — is making the case with a Christie-esque directness that usually eludes the president. “The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we’ll all go out and spend more, and then it will trickle down to the rest of you,” he told Christiane Amanpour on “This Week” last Sunday. “But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on.”

Everyone will have caught on by 2012, but that will be too late for many jobless Americans, let alone for Obama. As the economics commentator Jeff Madrick wrote in The Huffington Post, the unemployment rate has been above 7 percent only four times in a presidential election year since World War II — and in three of the four the incumbent lost (Ford, Carter, the first Bush). Reagan did win in 1984 with an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent, but the rate was falling rapidly (from a high of 10.8 two years earlier), and Reagan was as clear-cut in his leadership as Christie (only nicer).

Fred Grimm of the Miami Herald on how to raise money for public radio here in South Floirda.

Cute canvas tote bags might do the trick in other NPR markets, but South Florida undoubtedly stocks counterfeit WLRN totes alongside the Gucci and Versace knock-offs at the Thunderbird Swap Shop.

Down here, getting the listening public to pony up cash requires a bit more in the way of incentives, even for a beloved National Public Radio affiliate.

Sweeteners like the Car Talk 2011 Desk Calendar or A Prairie Home Companion Joke Book Fourth Edition might work in Boston or Cincinnati or Charlotte, but WLRN-FM (currently in the midst of another mind-numbing fundraiser) needs a strategy in tune with our peculiar local culture.

Voice on radio: ”Hello WLRN listeners. I’m standing by the alligator pit at Hollywood’s Seminole Indian Village with Miami Dolphin quarterback Chad Henne, bound and blindfolded, and a golden retriever puppy, both dangling perilously over the pit.

”Hear that? The whimpering puppy? The snapping alligator jaws? The hanging Chad?

”During our winter fundraiser, we’re offering WLRN’s loyal listeners a special offer. Give us $2,000 within the next hour and we’ll save the puppy and feed Chad to the gators. Otherwise…

”Plus, contributors receive a handsome manatee tote bag. Black or tan.”

Now that fund-raiser would get money from me.

Doonesbury — The Adventures of Red Rascal continue.