Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Is The Bradley Effect Gone?

We have talked before about how a “Bradley Effect” (more white voters telling pollsters they will vote for a black candidate than actually do) could hinder Obama from winning the White House even with his large polling leads.  But there is evidence in the primaries that Obama won MANY white voters (even in traditionally racist areas of the country) and some studies showing that the Bradley effect may have disappeared or, at least, lessened.  Nate Silver has excellent thoughts on this that are worth reading, and he cites an article by Lance Tarrance (the pollster that worked on L.A. mayor Tom Bradley’s campaign) that argues that the polling was flawed in that race and Bradley’s internal polling showed a much closer race.  No matter whether one supports McCain or Obama, we all have an interest in eliminating racism. (Silver’s suggestion that one see if a “Bradley effect” exists for Republican black candidates, few as they are, is an excellent one for those interested who have the skills.)  So, I urge you to read the article and, as you discuss the election with friends, urge them to vote for the best candidate–regardless of race.  (If a woman was at the top of either ticket–people seldom vote for a ticket because of the VP candidate–I would be having similar posts about overcoming sexism in elections, too.)

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October 13, 2008 Posted by | prejudice, race, U.S. politics | 4 Comments

The Road to 60: Can Democrats Win a “Filibuster-Proof” Majority in the U.S. Senate?

Okay, for non-U.S. readers (and even for many U.S. Americans), the numerous ways in which the U.S.A. is NOT a very democratic republic is confusing. When our Constitution was written and ratified, it was an 18th C. compromise between those who wanted a more robust representative democracy with as much power in the hands of the people as workable in a large, spread-out, nation, and those who feared “mob rule.”  Our bi-cameral legislature was one such compromise.  The House of Representatives is directly elected: with states awarded so many Reps. based on state population and every House member needing to stand for reelection (or defeat) every 2 years.  But the Senate, loosely based on the British House of Lords (except without inherited seats or seats based on clerical office, etc.), was originally elected by each state legislature. It took a Constitutional amendment for Senators to be directly elected.  And each state, no matter population, gets exactly 2 Senators.  They each serve 6 years at a term and only 1/3 of the Senate is up for re-election at any given time, so a “throw all the bums out” mood can only go so far in the Senate.

Likewise, while bills need only a simple majority to pass the House, they must have 60 (out of a 100 Senators) in the Senate to come to a vote on the floor. Otherwise, a “filibuster” or endless debate without vote, can be used to kill a bill.  (For generations this was used during slavery to keep anti-slavery bills from even being voted on–and later it was used for generations to kill civil rights legislation, keep women from voting, etc.) Sometimes this feature is a good thing.  If a radical faction controls the House, the Senate can keep it from passing unwise legislation.  And, when it functions correctly, it forces Senate members to gain cooperation from the other major party in order to pass legislation, confirm Supreme Court justices (and federal judges), Cabinet members, ratify international treaties, etc.  But it can be used in a very obstructionist way.  When the Democrats gained the majority in both Houses in ’06, with only a 51 seat majority in the Senate, Senate Republicans decided to block all major Democratic legislation, no matter how much supported by the public (especially, but not only, all attempts to end the occupation of Iraq).

With the nation facing such extreme problems, now, the Democrats decided for a bold effort this time not only to elect the next U.S. President (which now looks extremely likely unless Obama himself screws up in a major way), and to expand their majority in the House, but to attempt to get at least 60 seats in the Senate and prevent such obstructionism.  A 9 seat pick-up (or 10 if Liebermann (I-CT), former Dem who is for McCain, switches parties–or simply decides to caucus with the Rs, if McCain loses) is usually all but impossible.  But this year several factors were different: of the 1/3 of the Senate which had to stand for re-election, far more were Republicans than Democrats; several Republican Senators unexpectedly retired this time (and one died in office unexpectedly); the national mood has favored Democrats in general since mid-’05; Obama has very strong “coattails” in many places that could pull Democratic candidates in close races over the line with him; the Democrats have generally done better than the GOP this year in recruiting strong candidates for particular races; and, amazingly, the Democrats have done better than the GOP in fundraising for their candidates–for perhaps the first time since WWII; Republicans only had about 3 chances for a pick-up and botched all of them. They are not expected to take any Democratic seats to make up for their losses this year.  Nonetheless, the road to 60 has seemed a longshot.  But suddenly, it seems almost within reach.

The odds are still that Dems fall short, somewhere between 56 and 58 seats, but the odds are nowhere near as long as when this daring effort was first launched nearly 2 years ago. (And, in ’06, everyone, including myself, said that the Dems could retake the House, but would fall short of a majority in the Senate. We were wrong.  And the general dislike of Republicans is MUCH worse now than in ’06, though all politics remains local–each race is different.)  Here are the top 15 Senate races with 3 weeks until election day:

  1. Virginia: Two years ago, Virginia had 2 Republican Senators, as it had for decades.  Then, in one of the most exciting races of ’06, Jim Webb (D-VA), a former Republican who had been Sec. of the Navy under Reagan (a TRUE maverick who is deeply committed to the poor, to prison reform and many other “liberal” causes, but who is pro-gun, deeply pro-military [though not militaristic–and against the Iraq war/occupation], and who doesn’t think Democrats should have gotten involved in the struggle for gay rights because he believes it distracted/hindered our ability to mobilize on behalf of the poor!), won a narrow upset victory over Sen. Wayne Allen (R-VA). Then, to  everyone’s surprise, VA’s other Senator, John Warner (R-VA), decided to retire rather than run for reelection this time, leaving this an open seat. (Open seats are much more vulnerable to a party switch than seats with defending incumbents.) The Republican candidate, former Gov. Gilmore (R-VA), was deeply unpopular and wrecked VA’s economy.  The Democratic candidate, Mark Warner (D-VA), no relation to retiring Sen. John Warner (R-VA), was the Democratic governor who replaced Gilmore and cleaned up his mess. Not surprisingly, this race has never been close and now Warner (D-VA) leads Gilmore (R-VA) by 30 points! Safely Democratic. Virginia is changing.
  2. New Mexico:  This was also an open seat due to a retirement.  Democrats immediately nominated their strongest candidate, Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM), the 2nd most popular Democrat in the state–right behind Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM).  The Republicans, on the other hand, had a bruising, nasty, primary and selected far-right, unpopular, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM). If they had chosen his competitor, Heather Wilson(R-NM), a more moderate Republican in a moderate, swing state, they would have had a better chance at keeping this seat, although Udall would still have been a formidable opponent.  As it is, T. Udall has retained a double-digit lead over Pearce throughout the race.  Safe Democratic.
  3. Colorado:  Another open seat, caused by the unexpected retirement of Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO). This once deeply GOP state, like much of the Rocky Mountain West, is turning Democratic, now having a Democratic governor, one (conservative) Democratic Senator (Ken Salazar[D-C)]), Democratic mayors for its biggest cities, a growing Latino population(generally lean Democratic) and transplanted liberals from the West and East Coasts–as with much of the West.  Democrats chose Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO), cousin to Tom Udall of NM and considered to be from “liberal Boulder.”  The GOP choice of Bob Schaffer (R-CO), wasn’t a bad one–except more and more news of scandals kept coming out about Schaffer long after the GOP could have replaced him on their ticket.  So, while Udall’s lead was in the high single digits (theoretically catchable) until the last few weeks, his victory now seems fairly certain. He had a tougher race than his cousin did in NM, but he has never trailed Schaffer once. Safely Democratic. [The 3 safe races bring the Democratic Senate majority to 54. This is a MINIMUM result on November 4th, in my view and that of most political junkies.]
  4. New Hampshire: The “Granite State,” like most of New England, was long a Republican stronghold. But the type of Republicanism that thrived here was the Republicanism of Eisenhower and Ford–moderate, Chamber of Commerce, types, deeply suspicious of far-right Neo-Cons or of the fundamentalist Religious Right. As the latter 2 groups have all but completely taken over the GOP, it has lost favor in New England.  Sen. John Sununu (R-NH), son of the Reagan cabinet member, is moderate in today’s GOP, but NH is growing more liberal and his party’s name is now poison. Democratic candidate Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) is a former governor who was fairly popular, although she angered NH Democrats when she vetoed a bill to do away with NH’s death penalty (which hasn’t been used in decades).  This race has had its close moments. It hasn’t been a runaway, but Shaheen now leads by 10 points and, with NH now firmly in the Obama column in almost all polls, Shaheen’s victory seems assured. (Obama’s lead is itself surprising:  John McCain won the NH Republican primary in both his races for the White House and has been here so often since ’00 that he could practically build another home here! And, NH bucked the polls and went firmly for Clinton in the Democratic primary, giving Obama his first primary defeat. Shaheen was co-chair of Sen. Clinton (D-NY)’s presidential campaign committee–and one of the last to reconcile to her defeat.  Yet Obama leads McCain here by 13 points and Shaheen will benefit from his coattails.) Nearly Safely Democratic.
  5. North Carolina: This once deeply Republican state is turning Democratic–but not at as fast a rate as some other places.  Still, the changes are amazing.  In 2000, this GOP senate seat was still held by the notorious “Senator No,” arch-segregationist (and unrepentant racist demagogue) Jesse Helms (R-SC), who died earlier this year.  When Helms retired in ’02, the seat went to Elizabeth Dole (R-SC), wife of former U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) who unsuccessfully ran for president against Bill Clinton in ’96. Liddy Dole has been a longtime GOP operative and is somewhere between her husband’s brand of moderate Republicanism and the far-right nastiness of Helms.  Changing demographics, more Latinos and people moving in from out-of-state to work in the high-tech areas of the “Research Triangle” (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill), and rising levels of education have brought a liberalizing effect.  Although it will be close either way, NC is too close to call in the presidential race between Obama and McCain–despite not having voted Democratic in a presidential campaign since going for Carter in ’76! Into this situation, Democrats selected State Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), a pragmatic centrist with deep NC roots (there is much NC resentment that Dole is seldom in the state and has her primary residence at the Watergate Hotel in D.C.) to challenge for this seat. Dole is a one term senator, which is the next most structually vulnerable situation to an open seat.  Right after the Democratic primary, Hagan was only 5 points behind Dole. Then Dole dumped a bunch of advertising dollars into the campaign and seemed to lock up her reelection with a 15-point lead.  But then Hagan caught her in early Sep. and the polls of the last 3 weeks have all shown her leading Dole–by an avge. of 5 points. The latest poll showed Hagan 10 points up.  Even if Obama falls short of flipping this state, Hagan is likely to benefit from increased African-American and Latino voting this time and from young, first time voters registered by Obama and the Dems–since first-time voters who vote in the same year they are registered show up at about 75%.  Likely Democratic pick-up.
  6. Alaska:  This seat should have been safe in Republican hands.  Alaska has been a very Republican state ever since it first became a state in the late ’50s (first voting in a presidential election in 1960, along with Hawaii). There hasn’t been an Alaskan Democrat in the U.S. Senate since 1980 when Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK), an old-fashioned liberal, was defeated in the Reagan revolution.  This seat’s current occupant, Ted Stevens (R-AK) is the longest serving GOP Sen.  He has never faced a close election, always winning by 60% or more of the vote.  If he holds onto his seat this time, it will be by a MUCH narrower margin.  Stevens was embroiled in the infamous “bridge-to-nowhere” scandal (which also snared Sarah Palin when she first ran for Gov., though she claims to have later told Congress to forget it) and he has been indicted for taking bribes from the VECO corporation. The FBI raided his office and found money in his freezer in big stacks of bills and a large paper trail. Stevens’ bribery trial is ongoing.  When first indicted, it gave a HUGE boost to the Democratic candidate, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D-AK), but the nomination of popular AK Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) as McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate has narrowed this race again, with 2 polls actually showing a 1 pt. lead for Stevens.  But Begich’s avge. lead is 2.8% and the Troopergate scandal for Palin has dimmed her ability to help Stevens.  Obama has no chance of winning here, but I don’t think McCain/Palin will have a coattail for Stevens simply because his corruption is a matter of statewide disgust.  Begich might win even if Stevens is aquitted (and the prosecution has not run a good case, to the disgust of the FBI). Tilts Democratic pick-up.
  7. Oregon: Oregon is an odd state.  As a friend of mine who lives there says, “We are swing state, but not because we have many middle-of-the-road people like in Ohio.  Instead, Oregon’s liberals are VERY liberal and its conservatives are VERY conservative.”  Case in point: In 2004, OR narrowly went for Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) in the presidential election, but approved 2 ballot-initiatives: 1, a conservative change to the OR Constitution outlawing gay marriage  and 2, a liberal change becoming the only U.S. state to allow physician-assisted suicide in terminal cases. (I would have opposed BOTH those measures since I am for gay rights and against physician assisted suicide.) So, this race has been odd.  Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) hinted at retiring, but didn’t. He has a reputation for being more moderate than his voting record reveals–and has run ads that make it seem as if Obama supported his reelection, which he doesn’t!  The Democrats had a difficult primary before choosing Jeff Merkeley (D-OR) as their candidate.  Merkeley has run a good campaign, but trailed in high single digits until August.  He now leads in high single digits in all polls and is likely to benefit from Obama’s coattails.  Tilts Democratic Pick-up. [Winning all these seats, which is probable, would give Democrats 58 seats in the U.S. Senate–or 57 without Liebermann.  After this, the road gets more difficult, but still not impossible.]
  8. Minnesota: A quirky state with a tradition of liberal to moderate Republicans, but also some of the nation’s most famous liberal Democrats.  It had begun trending more conservative, but now seems to be returning to center-left.  Incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) was appointed, and then won in a special election this seat when Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN), a raging progressive who used to say he was from “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” died in a plane crash in ’02. Coleman ran as a moderate, but has voted the way George W. Bush asked him to 97% of the time–and few places other than Vermont and Massachussetts dislike Bush more than MN! The Democrats (who in MN are known as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party!) had a VERY crowded primary field, increasing Coleman’s chances of keeping his seat. (I like Peace and Justice Studies Prof. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, but he didn’t make it.  I hope he keeps trying for high office. We need more elected peacemakers.) Eventually, the Democrats picked comic and news commentator, Al Franken (DFA-MN), who almost immediately lost ground when it was revealed that some of his early routines were rather “blue.” MN saw this as “pornographic humor.” In mid-summer, this race seemed lost. Then, Coleman was caught with several scandals and the race was competitive, again. Since late August, this race has been a virtual tie.  But in the latest poll (since the 2nd Senate debate), Franken has surged to a 6 point lead and now has an avge lead of 2.2! Tilts GOP, but Franken may be on his way to an upset victory!  Also, Obama should have coattails, here, although there has been so much variation in the MN polls that John McCain could actually pick this one off–a major upset, but not enough to ensure his victory–but maybe enough to keep Coleman’s seat.  Coleman has announced that he is dropping all negative campaigning! Independent candidate Dean Barkely is Libertarian and is polling at 14%, so, depending on whether he takes more of Franken’s voters or more of Coleman’s could be the deciding factor.
  9. Georgia: This is another case of what a difference a few weeks makes! Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) had narrowly defeated Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA) in ’02 in one of the nastiest campaigns of that year.  Chambliss used the issue of terrorism, which was legitimate, but his ads implied that Cleland, a Vietnam veteran who lost one arm and both legs in combat, was not patriotic! This smear infuriated GA Dems (and Dems all across the nation, including me!) and they targeted Chambliss for defeat as soon as his term was up this year.  But, initially, it looked to be a vain effort. The Democratic primary in GA wasn’t until July and the field was so crowded that no candidate gained more than 50%. So, there was a runoff in early August won by Dale Martin (D-GA) a state legislator.  It seemed too late. He was behind Chambliss by 12 points! But that lead has narrowed every poll and yesterday, it became an EXACT TIE! Further, although still not expected to take the state, Obama has surged in GA in recent weeks, even getting ahead by 1-2 points in a few polls! So, Martin could be about to give an even bigger upset than Franken in MN! Leans GOP retention.
  10. Kentucky: This was another big target.  KY is a “purple state” that votes Democratic locally and usually Republican nationally (although it voted for Clinton twice, it turned around and voted for Bush twice and McCain has a strong lead here).  Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been in the U.S. Sen. for 24 years and never had a close race.  Since he is the Senate Minority Leader (i.e., Obstructionist-in-Chief), removing him would be worth removing any 2 other GOP senators for senate Democrats.  But we seemed to blow it.  Instead of selecting Louisville attorney and Lt. Col. in the U.S. Marine Reserves, Andrew Horne (D-KY), who went to Iraq but came back to oppose the war, who was running a great grassroots campaign, the KY Dem. Party forced him for the race for Businessman Bruce Lunsford (D-KY), who has funded as many GOP campaigns, including McConnell’s, as he has Democratic ones.  I thought this race was all over and I don’t LIKE Lunsford. (If he wins, I’ll be glad McConnell’s gone, but I will try for a primary challenge in 6 years and, if Lunsford faces off against a better, moderate, Republican, I may cross party lines. He’s not that much better than McConnell, really.) But, funded by his own money, and helped by the crashing economy, Lunsford has pulled even with McConnell. An exact tie in some polls and a point or 2 ahead or behind in others.  McConnell’s vote for the bailout has turned many of his own people against him, here and Lunsford has successfully tied him to the deregulation that caused this mess.  But Obama has no coattails here, so I have no idea whether Lunsford can upset McConnell or not. It IS the closest race of McConnell’s Senate career.
  11. Mississippi B: Due to the unexpected retirement of Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), MS has TWO Senate races this year. The other race, unfortunately, is safe in GOP hands.  But Rep. Roger Wicker (R-MS), appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) to fill Lott’s place until this special election, has had some scandals. Further, his opponent is Ronnie Musgrove (D-MS), a popular former governor who has made education his primary issue–in a state TIRED of being dead last in education standards.  The polls have been close all through this race with now Musgrove and now Wicker up by 1 or 2–always within the margin of error.  Musgrove is helped by the Democratic wave. Obama has no chance here, but his being on the ballot should increase African-American participation. African-Americans are 38% of MS, the highest % of any U.S. state (which is why, after the end of segregation, MS has the highest number of black elected officials, despite a HUGE amount of continued racism).  That extra black turnout, while probably not enough for Obama to carry the state, will help out downticket races like Musgrove. Gov. Barbour (R-MS) and the GOP are so scared that, instead of placing this race under the presidential one like the other Senate race, they are attempting to place it at the end of the ballot–and many people do not carefully read and vote in all the races. Democrats are challenging this in court, but will probably lose because 3 of the MS Supreme Court justices owe their positions to Barbour! I have no idea what will happen here. Leans GOP retention. [If ALL of the above races were to flip for the Democrats, we would have 60–even without Lieberman.  The next possibilities, in case any of these fail, are trickier.]
  12. Texas: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is a Bush disciple–and even Texas is getting tired of Bush. His challenger, State Sen. Rick Noriega (D-TX), an officer in the TX National Guard who has done tours of duty in Iraq and is for a quick end to the occupation and paints Cornyn as a chickenhawk.  Democrats are making gains in TX, hoping to retake the legislature this year and the governor’s mansion in ’10.  And Latinos are now 33% of the TX population with African-Americans another 13%.  So, Noriega should have been able to run a strong race. He was initially a good fundraiser, but then it dropped off. Texas is an expensive place to run a senate campaign. As late as August, most Texans had never heard of Noriega.  However, the recent hurricanes and the economic meltdown have tainted Republicans even in Bush country. If the Democratic Party pumped in large money to help Noriega get his message out with 3 weeks to go, maybe he could pull off a miracle, but I think he has run out of time. Likely Republican retention.
  13. Kansas: It looked for a time like Jim Slattery (D-KS) could pull off an upset against longtime Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), in this deeply Republican stronghold. He even made an issue of one party rule since no Democrat has gone to the Senate from KS since 1912, the longest in any state in the union! Slattery emphasized how this was unhealthy for KS.  And KS has recently moved SLIGHTLY more Democratic. Slattery kept Roberts’ lead under 10 for awhile, but this looks once again safely Republican and Obama has ZERO coattails here. (In fact, I think McCain’s selection of Palin as a running mate helped him in places like KS.)
  14. Oklahoma:  Another deeply Republican stronghold where McCain leads by 33%.  But in OK, as elsewhere in the West, Democrats have begun to make inroads by using environmentalism as a wedge issue–getting hunters and ranchers to team up with eco-friendly folk against overdevelopment. State Sen. Andrew Rice (D-OK), whose brother died in 9/11, who was a missionary with a Havard divinity degree, has made the environment the center of his campaign. And his opponent, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), is an idiot who has embarrassed OK by calling global warming a “hoax.” Rice’s strategy seemed to be working, but as the race has come into the final stretch, Inhofe has lengthened his lead. Here Obama has a negative effect and the Democratic name suffers accordingly–although I doubt Hillary Clinton would have any coattails here, either.  Unless, Rice can find a way to hammer Inhofe on the economy, I don’t see him having any chance this year.  Maybe in the future.  Almost certainly, and sadly, GOP retention.
  15. Maine: Rep. Tom Allen (D-ME) should have had a strong race against Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) in a state and region where Democrats now outnumber Republicans 2-1. But, although Collins has been voting as a Bush clone since ’06–as Allen has repeatedly pointed out, the state newspapers have continued to hail her as a moderate Republican. They have buried her votes for the war and for much else that Maine abhors and all of Allen’s attempts to reverse this reputation of hers have been for naught so far.  Unless Allen can tie Collins to the economic mess, I don’t see how he can close the gap at this late date. This was a surpise. Everyone, including me, thought this would be a likely pick-up for Dems–ahead of other races that HAVE become very competitive.

Well, there it is. It is likely that Dems will have to settle for less than a 60 seat majority.  But things are MUCH closer than even 3 weeks ago, so, who knows?

October 12, 2008 Posted by | U.S. politics | 4 Comments

Former President of Finland to Win Nobel Peace Prize

Martti Ahtisaari (b. 1937) , the former President of Finland, has been selected as the winner of the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.  In their announcement, the Nobel Committee said that it was awarding Ahtisaari the Peace Prize “for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts.”  Ahtisaari has been involved in conflict resolution in Namibia, Aceh, Indonesia, Kosovo, and Iraq, among other places.  As every year, the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded in Oslo, Norway on 10 December (International Human Rights Day) by the chair of the Nobel Committee in the presence of King Harald V of Norway.  After a speech by the Nobel Committee Chair citing the Laureate’s accomplishments and the reasoning of the Committee in his selection, the new Laureate will give the traditional Nobel lecture.  You can read past lectures (many of which, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s, Jimmy Carter’s, Muhammad Yunu’s, etc. are really moving) here.

October 11, 2008 Posted by | peacemaking | 2 Comments

Book Review: Twentieth-Century Shapers of Baptist Social Ethics

Twentieth-Century Shapers of Baptist Social Ethics, ed. by Larry L. McSwain and Wm. Loyd Allen (Mercer University Press, 2008). 

This is a difficult book to review for several reasons:  1) I know many of the “Shapers” personally as teachers.  2) I know both the editors and many of the contributors. 3) This is my field of academic expertise and these are mostly my frieds.  4) The figures included in this collection represent what I consider to be some of the best of my denominational or theological tradition–rather than the images more often associated with Baptists as narrow bigots and hypocrites, uncritical warmongers and lovers of money.  The individuals profiled in this book, and many of the profilers, are among the strongest reasons why I continue to identify with the Baptist tradition. 5) I was initially invited by one of the editors to contribute to the volume, but Mercer University Press was already complaining about the length of the book (343 pp.). None of this makes objectivity easy.

Let me say it clearly: I liked this book and all the chapters included.  My criticisms are those of an insider and perfectionist who would be trying to get a profile and analysis better. I did not find any chapter that was fundamentally off in characterization, although I did have some differences of emphasis and some differences on who should be included.

After an introductory chapter by the editors, the volume includes chapters that profile Walter Rauschenbusch, Muriel Lester, Nannie Helen Burroughs, T. B. Maston, Henlee Hulix Barnette, James
Wm. McClendon, Jr., J. Deotis Roberts, Paul D. Simmons (since Simmons’ focus has been on biomedical ethics and sexual ethics, it is not clear that he has been a shaper of Baptist social ethics, despite a Ph.D. dissertation on Just War Theory and Selective Conscientious Objection and many writings on religious liberty and church-state separation), Clarence Jordan, Martin England, Millard Fuller and Koinonia Farm, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimmy Carter, C. Anne Davis, Glen Harold Stassen, Tony Campolo, J. M. Dawson and James Dunn, and Foy Dan Valentine.  It is part of my mindset that I first notice who is omitted in collections like this:  This collection focuses almost entirely on the U.S. scene (with the exception of Muriel Lester, an English Baptist), although it includes more African-Americans and women than most similar collections.  Nonetheless, I thought immediately of Tommy Douglass, the Canadian Baptist minister-turned-politician who was a product of the Social Gospel and who created Canada’s publicly funded healthcare system–and was recently voted by Canadians as “The Greatest Canadian.”  Or Britain’s John Clifford, the U.K.’s answer to Rauschenbusch or Australia’s maverick Baptist, Athol Gill.  And, if one were to include Baptists from the Global South, the book would look very different.

Even in the U.S., I wondered at some omissions:  Where are Howard Thurman, C. René Padilla, Orlando Costas, Will D. Campbell, Culbert Rutenber, Dorothy Cotton, Marian Wright Edelman, Peter Paris, Cornel West, Peter Gomes, Ken Sehested and Nancy Hastings Sehested, W. W. Finlator, Stanley Grenz, Diana Garland, or Carlyle Marney?  Needless to say, a sequel or companion volume would be easy to fill.  In a future volume, many of the current volumes contributing authors will probably find a place, including Paul Lewis (author of the chapter on Rauschenbusch), William Tillman, Jr. (T. B. Maston), David Emmanuel Goatley (J. Deotis Roberts), T. Laine Scales (C. Anne Davis), David P. Gushee (Glen Harold Stassen), Michelle Tooley (Tony Campolo), J. Brent Walker (J. M. Dawson and James Dunn), and, perhaps others.  I agree with the editors that a volume on Twenty-FIRST Century “shapers of Baptist social ethics” would include far more women, be far more racially/ethnically diverse, and probably be dominated by voices from the Global South.  More Christians now live South of the equator than North of it and more Christians live in Africa and Latin America than in Europe or North America–a trend that is likely to continue.  African and Asian Christians have begun to send missionaries to post-Christian Europe and to North America (where U.S. Christians who vote for war and torture seem to have completely misunderstood the gospel in DROVES!).

But given the limits of any volume like this in size and scope, this is an excellent work and I highly recommend it.  Sections Two and Three are divided between “Thinkers and Teachers” (section two) and “Activists: Dreamers of a New World Order.” But the division should not be seen as airtight. Many of the activists (e.g., Tony Campolo, C. Anne Davis and Glen Stassen) have spent most of their careers in the classroom and have pioneered in various academic areas.  Some of the other activists (e.g., Jimmy Carter, James Dunn, Foy Valentine) have also had teaching responsibilities for parts of their careers.  Also, many of the teachers and thinkers (e.g., Henlee Barnette, Deotis Roberts, and James Wm. McClendon) have all engaged in action for social justice, especially Barnette.

In fact, one major thread connecting all these different Baptist social ethicists is a refusal to divide theory and practice, faith and discipleship, salvation and social reform.  Though most of the figures profiled herein have high christologies and orthodox theologies, they have not exhibited (with Luther) any desire to remove the Epistle of James from their working canon.  In differing ways, each has incarnational faith that must be lived out in the world. 

Because of the price ($45!), I am hoping MUP puts out a paperback edition of this volume soon.  I recommend it for church libraries, for those seeking to understand the 20th C. history of one major Christian tradition, and for those of us in the Baptist (or, more broadly, Believers’ Church) tradition who seek to learn from guides in previous generations as we try to be faithful disciples in our own contexts in this 21st C.

October 6, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, books, ethics, heroes | 3 Comments

Obama’s Chances of Victory Increase

Before the weekend is out, I will blog on something not related to U.S. politics, I promise.  But I am a political junkie and the stakes in this race are huge, both for the U.S. and the world.  (The world needs to worry because (a) McCain truly DOESN’T understand the economy and we’re all connected these days and (b) because U.S. presidents generally have more latitude in foreign policy and, even though no scenario exists that doesn’t show the Dems gaining larger majorities in both houses of Congress, a presidential loss would probably demoralize them enough not to fight McCain too much on foreign policy–scary. Plus, a 72 year old McCain who has 3 times fought cancer would be in the most stressful job in U.S. politics–and Sarah Palin is only a heartbeat away and clearly is not fit for the job. )

There is now a month before the elections–which can be an eternity. John McCain could still win–He has announced plans to go completely negative (read 100% attack and smear ads) for the rest of the campaign and that could work. It has before.  Expect McCain to be really nasty in the last 2 presidential debates.  But Obama is pulling ahead nationally and in several swing states.  Electoral college maps project him winning (84% chance of victory) between 286 and 333 electoral votes (270 needed to win). McCain needs BOTH Ohio and Florida and Obama is pulling ahead in FL and is virtually tied in OH.  McCain has had to pull out of MI and may have to do the same in PA–both states Kerry barely won that McCain hoped to capture.  Meanwhile, Obama is pulling ahead in the following states that went for Bush: VA, CO, NC, NM, OR. He is virtually tied in IN and MO, although I think both will ultimately break for McCain–as probably NC will, too.  But Obama has forced McCain to play on a big map with less resources–and McCain spent his resources unwisely in early summer–on attack ads that narrowed the gap in the short run (Does anyone now care about the stupid Britney Spears ad?) instead of on ground game–registering new voters and getting out the vote in battleground states.  Now, McCain can’t get those resources back when he needs them.

See the analyses of FiveThirtyEight.com and 270toWin.com which shows that Obama has 22 paths to victory and McCain only 12, all of which need him to get ALL the states Bush won in ’04 or else to offset a loss with gains in states Kerry won–and McCain is not leading or even tied in ANY Kerry states. [Update, as of today, 06 Oct. ’08, 270toWin.com  has updated it’s results. It narrows Obama’s paths to victory to 8 and McCain’s to 2, but it gives Obama a 99% chance of victory since now McCain needs ALL of the following battleground states: FL (where Obama is now ahead by 5), OH (where the latest poll just out today shows Obama ahead by 8–which seems high to me, but is indicative of the trend),  NC (virtual tie), VA (where Obama just pulled ahead by 10 and now leads in EVERY region of the state!),  IN (virtual tie), MO (virtual tie), & CO (tie in latest poll, Obama ahead by 5 in all others in last 3 weeks). I find the odds of McCain getting every one of those states REALLY small. But Obama should ignore these projections and work his butt off as if he was still virtually tied as 3 weeks ago.] The Las Vegas oddsmakers also give it to Obama.

However, things can change quickly.  If the economy calms down AT ALL, McCain could refocus voters on foreign policy and beat the war drums–which may work or may not. He could be successful in restarting the culture wars or exploit fears of Latinos that a black president will favor African-Americans over them in the scramble for the crumbs dropped by rich whites.  The youth vote, which Obama leads in double digits, could decide not to show up as it has so many years before.  Obama could do something stupid that costs him the election (as Democrats are sadly prone to do).  And, while we know race is a factor (because many voters tells us so quite openly–like the FL teacher who used the N word in his classes in making fun of an Obama campaign slogan–he HAS been suspended!), we do not how much of one it is and probably won’t even if Obama loses to McCain–unless exit polling shows this as a significant factor.

But as of right now, it looks like McCain is losing. If he cannot change the race’s dynamics (and even conservative columnists like Krauthammer doubt he has any more “hail Mary” passes in him) in a big way by 15 October, he’d better start practicing saying, “President Obama,”–and preparing for Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-NM) to retire him from the U.S. Senate in ’10!

Oh, and it looks like Democrats will increase their majority in the House by about 20 seats and increase their Senate majority to between 56 and 58–but short of the 60 seats needed to give Obama a “filibuster proof” majority. (We’ll pick up the needed seats in ’10 if Obama is as successful as I think he will be in governing.)

UPDATE:  The attempts of the McCain camp to “change the subject” from the economic crisis (and all the other crises we face) to returning to smearing Obama’s patriotism is not stupid.  It’s the best move they have and it has worked in previous elections.  However, saying that this is their best shot is like saying that an onside kick in the final moments of an American football game is the best bet for a losing team that needs at least a touchdown and a fieldgoal in the final moments of the game.  It still is likely to lose this late in the game and this far behind. But the format of Tues. night’s second presidential debate favors this kind of attempt.  And, the McCain people don’t have to convince everyone (or even a majority) that Obama is a terrorist lover–just a few people in key groups:  older Latinos in NM, CO, & NV, for instance (Obama is winning about 60% of the Latino vote, but would need at least 65% to be SURE of shutting McCain out of those states) who are already nervous about voting for a black man and who love McCain’s military service. (There is also a strong strain of social conservatism among Latinos about the issues of abortion and gay marriage.  To counter this, Obama needs to find time to go back to NM, NV, and CO and enter the Latino areas PERSONALLY–as he did in rural Iowa, OH, PA, and VA. And he needs to emphasize that McCain has switched from his previous position on immigration to a very anti-immigrant stance–and Palin is even more anti-immigrant.) Convincing some older Jews in FL that Obama is not sufficiently supportive of Israel could also work since Obama’s lead in FL is slim.

But, again:  Obama has forced McCain to play on a big map.  He has 8 paths to electoral victory and McCain has 2, all of which demand winning BOTH FL and OH.  People in OH want to focus on the economy right now and so do people in FL.  This desperation play may work:  I never underestimate the ability of U.S. voters to fall for “weapons of mass distraction.” But if it doesn’t work, McCain has NOTHING left and the move cannot help but make him LOOK desperate–something that can contribute to losing all by itself.

October 4, 2008 Posted by | U.S. politics | 7 Comments