You Got A Problem With That? — Fareed Zakaria on the Pope and Christians.
I am not a Christian. But growing up in India, I was immersed in Christianity. I attended Catholic and Anglican schools from ages 5 to 18, where we would sing hymns, recite prayers and study the Scriptures. The words and actions of Pope Francis have reminded me what I, as an outsider, have always admired deeply about Christianity, that its central message is simple and powerful: Be nice to the poor.
When I came to the United States in the 1980s, I remember being surprised to see what “Christian values” had come to mean in American culture and politics — heated debates over abortion, abstinence, contraception and gays. In 13 years of reading, reciting and studying the Bible, I didn’t recall seeing much about these topics.
That’s because there is very little in there about them. As Garry Wills points out in his perceptive new book, “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis,” “Many of the most prominent and contested stands taken by Catholic authorities (most of them dealing with sex) have nothing to do with the Gospel.”
The church’s positions on these matters were arrived at through interpretations of “natural law,” which is not based on anything in the Bible. But because those grounds looked weak, conservative clergy sought to bolster their views with biblical sanction. So contraception was condemned by Pope Pius XI, Wills notes, through a pretty tortuous interpretation of a couple of lines in Genesis that say Onan “spilled his seed on the ground” — since it involves ejaculation without the intent of conception.
The ban of women in the Catholic clergy is a similar stretch. When the Anglicans decided to ordain female priests in 1976, Pope Paul VI presented a theological reason not to follow that path. Women could not be priests, he decreed, because Jesus never ordained a female priest. “True enough,” Wills writes. “But neither did he ordain any men. There are no priests (other than the Jewish ones) in the four Gospels. Peter and Paul and their fellows neither call themselves priests nor are called priests by others.”
Wills even takes on abortion, opposition to which some Catholics have taken as fundamental to their faith. “This is odd,” Wills writes, “since the matter is nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament or New Testament, or in the early creeds. But some people are convinced that God must hate such an immense evil and must have expressed that hatred somewhere in his Bible.” In fact, Wills points out, the ban is based on a complex extrapolation from vague language in one verse, Psalm 139:13.
If you want to understand the main message of Jesus Christ, you don’t have to search the Scriptures. He says it again and again. “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Commentators have taken Francis’s speeches and sayings and attacked him or claimed him as a Marxist, a unionist and a radical environmentalist. I don’t think the pope is proposing an alternative system of politics or economics. He is simply reminding each of us that we have a moral obligation to be kind and generous to the poor and disadvantaged — especially if we have been fortunate. If you have a problem with this message, you have a problem not with Pope Francis, but with Jesus Christ.
Boehner’s Last Deal — Molly Ball in The Atlantic on the Speaker’s failure to lead.
…There are two rules of John Boehner, John Lawrence, a former chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi, told me recently: One, he always wants to make the deal; two, he can never deliver the votes for the deal. That was apparent even before he became speaker. In 2008, with the nation’s economy melting down, Boehner, then the House minority leader, worked with Democrats to craft a bailout bill for the financial industry. But when it went to the floor, he couldn’t get Republicans to vote for it. The bill failed, and the stock market plunged nearly 800 points. (A second version of the bill passed a few days later.)
After the Tea Party wave of 2010 elevated Boehner to the speakership, the White House saw him as someone it could deal with, and Boehner and President Obama set about trying to craft a “grand bargain” that would increase government revenue while cutting long-term spending. The deal fell apart—the two sides still disagree on what happened, with Democrats insisting Boehner couldn’t sell a deal to his caucus while Republicans say it was the White House that made unreasonable demands at the last minute. The result, in July 2011, was a debt-ceiling crisis that brought the country to the brink of default and resulted in a credit downgrade.
This pattern—failed dealmaking, crisis, a last-minute (or post-last-minute) patch—would repeat itself. Boehner was backed by a large Republican majority, and was himself quite ideologically conservative. But he believed in compromise, in incremental progress toward conservative goals in the long term. And as a congressional lifer, he’d been around long enough to know what was realistic—given a Democratic Senate and White House—and what was not. Several dozen members of his GOP caucus, elected from overwhelmingly Republican districts, often in race-to-the-right primaries, disagreed with this analysis and viewed compromise as capitulation. (This is also the view of the majority of the party base.)
Thanks to this conservative rump caucus, Boehner couldn’t reliably get the 218 votes he needed to pass legislation through the House. He suffered a series of humiliating failed floor votes; he repeatedly had to rely on Democratic votes to get bills through. The situation came to a head two years ago, when conservatives, led by Senator Ted Cruz, refused to vote for a funding bill to keep the government up and running unless a measure to defund Obamacare was included. With Boehner unable, again, to muster the votes for a compromise, the government shut down for two and a half weeks.
It reopened again just in time to raise the debt ceiling. Boehner was convinced he had taught the conservatives—one moderate GOP congressman termed them “lemmings with suicide vests”—a lesson. And indeed, 2014 saw a marked thaw, with a budget passing both houses for the first time in five years and some minor outbreaks of comity. At the same time, Boehner couldn’t convince his troops to move forward on immigration, an issue dear to the speaker’s base in the business lobby.
Why was Boehner so weak? In part, he was simply a man with an impossible job. Republicans are divided between their nihilist and governing wings. Having banned earmarks, Boehner couldn’t use pork-barrel spending to win votes. And with his naturally easygoing temperament, he wasn’t an enforcer—unlike the former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, no one would ever nickname John Boehner “the Hammer.” Boehner’s efforts to punish those who defied him—by stripping committee assignments, for example—were only met with more defiance. In the vote to reelect him speaker in January, 25 Republicans voted against him, the greatest number of defections any speaker has faced in the last century.
Boehner was said to like being speaker, but most days, he didn’t seem to be having much fun. For years, there have been rumors he would resign. At his press conference Friday, he said he initially planned to depart at the end of 2014, but when Cantor was deposed in a primary last year, he decided to stay one more year, for stability’s sake. Last year’s midterm elections increased the Republicans’ majority and seemed to increase Boehner’s power. But they also increased the ranks of restive conservatives, who helped torpedo another business-lobby priority, the Export-Import Bank, over the summer.
Next week, funding for the government will again expire, and Boehner was looking ahead at another apparently unavoidable shutdown fight, as conservatives demanded that Planned Parenthood be defunded in exchange for any extension. In the end, he realized he had one last bargaining chip—his speakership. Without the threat of an ouster looming over him, he is free to put a “clean” funding bill on the floor, which is likely to pass with a combination of Democratic and Republican votes.
Boehner’s exit Friday was cheered by conservatives, from the halls of the Values Voter Summit to the airwaves of talk radio. After years of struggling against his own party’s rejectors of compromise, he has finally pleased them by giving up. He sacrificed his career for one last deal. This time, he may even have the votes to pass it.
The End of the Myth — Ben Carson shatters the stereotype that brain surgeons are smart; Andy Borowitz reports.
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Brain surgeons, long burdened with the onerous reputation of being among the smartest people in the world, are expressing relief that the Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson is shattering that stereotype once and for all.
In interviews with brain surgeons across the country, the doctors revealed the enormous pressure they felt to live up to their profession’s inflated renown for intelligence before Carson entered the race.
“When people found out I was a brain surgeon they would always assume I was some kind of a genius,” said Harland Dorrinson, a neurosurgeon in Toledo, Ohio. “Now they are beginning to understand that you can know a lot about brain surgery and virtually nothing about anything else.”
Dorrinson said that acquaintances used to view him as a source of wisdom on a wide range of subjects, but added, “Ever since Ben Carson said that prisons make people gay, that’s really fallen off.”
The brain surgeon said that he would probably contribute to Carson’s campaign to keep him in the race: “every time he says something, it helps bring people’s unrealistic expectations about brain surgeons back down to earth.”
He said that he was cheered by Carson’s pronouncement over the weekend that Muslims should not be President. “Now you can cross politics off the list of things that people will expect me to be knowledgeable about,” he said. “I think I speak for a lot of brain surgeons when I say, ‘Thank you, Ben Carson.’ ”
Doonesbury — The Big Guy.