Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday Reading

Life of Service — Matt Ford at The Atlantic looks at the life of Beau Biden.

Although Beau Biden was not a carbon copy of his father, he shared his unrelenting commitment to public service. Beau, the former attorney general of Delaware and son of Vice President Joe Biden, died Saturday from a recurrence of brain cancer at age 46. “The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words,” his father said in a statement. “We know that Beau’s spirit will live on in all of us—especially through his brave wife, Hallie, and two remarkable children, Natalie and Hunter.”

Beau’s first experience in government came when he worked as a lawyer for the Justice Department before entering private practice. He held the rank of major in the Delaware Army National Guard, and served a yearlong tour in Iraq from October 2008 to September 2009. There, he worked as a judge advocate general in the waning days of the U.S. occupation. His deployment coincided with his father’s run for the vice presidency in 2008. “He’ll go, [although] I don’t want him going,” Joe told a crowd on the campaign trail. “But I don’t want my grandsons or granddaughters going back in 15 years, so how we leave makes a big difference.”

A military deployment affects the entire family, even when it’s the vice president’s son. His father and stepmother often spoke with pride about their son’s service, but also highlighted its toll. “The holidays were difficult for our entire family because we always spent them together,” Jill Biden, Beau’s stepmother, said during a commencement address at Villanova University last year. “We tried to keep our spirits up with our regular traditions, but the empty chair at the table was a painful reminder of Beau’s absence.”

Beau’s deployment also underscored his desire to serve on his own terms. Once elected, he chose to remain attorney general of Delaware during his tour of duty in Iraq instead of resigning from either post. Three years earlier, Beau also turned down an offer by Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner in 2005 to be appointed state attorney general, preferring instead to win the job by election in 2006. “[Beau] thought that he, probably more than others, needed to earn it,” his brother Hunter Biden toldNational Journal last year. When his father resigned from the Senate to take the vice presidency in 2008, Beau also turned down the opportunity to be appointed his replacement in a seat he had not won for himself.

More on Moore — Jeffrey Tayler in Salon leads us down the Jesus trail with a role model for Torquemada, Alabama-style.

… Now we come to Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. Speaking last week at the Family Research Council, a hyper-conservative Christian lobbying group in Washington, D.C., Moore defined the pursuit of happiness as a by-product of observing the often malicious edicts and baleful pronouncements pervading cock-and-bull fables originating with pastoral, semi-nomadic primitive tribes two or three millennia ago in a land far, far away; that is, the Bible. Moore declared, in obtusely baroque verbiage, that “It’s laws of God, for He is so intimately connected, so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual that the latter cannot be obtained but by observing the former, and if the formerly be punctually abated it cannot help but induce the latter. You can’t help but be happy if you follow God’s law and if you follow God’s law, you can’t help but be happy. We need to learn our law.”

Translation: doing what the Bible says makes you happy.

Some readers might recall Moore from 2003, when he fought a federal injunction ordering him to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments he had arranged to be erected within the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery.  Denouncing federal judges who held that the “obedience of a court order [is] superior to all other concerns, even the suppression of belief in the sovereignty of God,” Moore refused to comply, and was sacked from the court. Thousands of his supporters descended on the site. More than a year passed before the authorities managed to truck away the offending chunk of granite, a monstrosity so heavy it threatened to crash through the building’s floor.

A decade later, already a folk hero to the brute masses of his state afflicted with the malady of faith, Moore, as unrepentant as ever, found himself reelected to Alabama’s highest tribunal. Once again, he could not sit still. When the Supreme Court in Washington legalized same-sex marriage in Alabama last January, Roy forbade state employees and probate judges from carrying out such unions. In a contentious interview with CNN, Moore then proclaimed that “Our rights contained in the Bill of Rights do not come from the Constitution, they come from God.” He denied he was defying the Supreme Court; rather, he was protecting marriage, “an institution ordained of God.” His allegiance, as should now be clear, is not to the Constitution he has sworn to uphold, but to gobbledygook myths and a bogus Tyrant in the Sky. In other words, to the Bible and God.

One might be tempted to dismiss Moore as yet another faith-mongering, red-state ignoramus, but his status as chief justice should give us pause. Moreover, for decades now, those of the religious right have been laboring to force their superstitions, by hook or by crook, on the rest of us. In far too many states, for example, they’ve succeeded in legislatively thwarting Roe v. Wade to restrict women’s reproductive rights. Just last year, they won a Supreme Court case legalizing prayer in town meetings. And if non-belief is steadily gaining ground, those who remain Christian are increasingly evangelical — which is to say, politically active and well-funded. We thus find our cherished secularism under credible, and growing, threat.

The Indictment of Dennis Hastert — Amy Davidson in The New Yorker on the indictment of the former Speaker of the House.

Hastert became Speaker because Newt Gingrich had just crashed and burned, and because the next in line, Bob Livingston, worried that, in the wake of Bill Clinton’s Lewinsky-related impeachment, his own extramarital affairs would come out. Hastert lost the job when he mishandled the scandal that erupted when Representative Mark Foley, Republican of Florida, was discovered to have sent sexual messages to teen-age male congressional pages. Hastert’s clumsiness on that count, and his failure to protect the pages, seems easier to explain now. And his many protestations that he might not be worthy of the Speaker’s job—he told reporters that he took it only after praying on it—look less like humility, if they ever did. After leaving Congress, Hastert made a great deal more money as a lobbyist, a business in which one of his two sons was already engaged while Hastert had been Speaker. (Hastert has been married since 1973.)

“He was the coach,” Representative Peter King, Republican of New York, told the Times. “He was a solid guy, he never raised his voice. This has really come out of nowhere.” One of the few institutions to cut to the chase in the hours before details about the alleged abuse became known was the high school in Yorkville where Hastert had worked. It issued a statement saying that it had never received any complaints about him. Silence in a small Midwestern town in the nineteen-sixties and seventies can mean more than one thing.

There may be a tendency to wonder, when considering a story like Hastert’s, if this is what happens when people have to bury who they are. Homophobia has painfully contracted countless lives. But that diagnosis seems somewhat off here: Individual A was a high-school student, and so almost certainly a minor, and Hastert was a coach. There is something different about that, even before one gets to, say, Hastert’s drive for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, or his work to pass the privacy-invading Patriot Act—though those are worth mentioning, too.

The money, the indictment said, was “to compensate for and conceal” whatever Hastert had done. There is a knife’s edge in that “and.” How much was compensation, and for what sort of damage, and how much was concealment? How did the alleged victim figure in the question of his own privacy, if at all? Blackmail and extortion are complicated and, in cases of personal wrong, ambiguous acts to begin with—even more so than banking-record laws. There is a great deal in this story that is still concealed and, when one looks at Hastert’s entire career, uncompensated for.

Jonathan Franzen, in a Profile of Hastert for The New Yorker in 2003, wrote, “When I asked him how he felt about the impeachment of Bill Clinton, four and a half years after, he described Clinton’s loss of credibility as ‘a personal tragedy.’ Later, I asked him about Watergate and Richard Nixon. ‘A tragedy,’ he said. The legal woes of Illinois Governor George Ryan? ‘A tragedy.’” Maybe Hastert sees his own case that way. But whose tragedy is it? The larger problem comes when Washington is so full of tragedies that it begins to look like one great farce.

Doonesbury — Graduation presents.