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

The Real West Wing?

If they made a hit TV show about the working White House of the new administration, this is what it would look like–with more “characters” to be named (and lots of guest shots from Cabinet members, no doubt).

Who are these people?

David Axelrod (b. 1955, A.B. University of Chicago, 1977), the genius who ran Obama’s campaign, is now White House Senior Advisor.

Joseph Biden (b. 1942, A.B., University of Delaware; J.D., Syracuse University School of Law), Democratic Senator from Delaware and former presidential candidate will be sworn in tomorrow as Vice President of the United States.

Rahm Emmanuel (b. 1959, B.A. [in DANCE!] Sara Lawrence College; M.A. in Speech and Communication, Northwestern University), U.S. Rep. (D-IL 05), former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, former Chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives, will now be White House Chief of Staff. (This is a very powerful position.)

Robert Gibbs (b. 1971, B.A., North Carolina State University), was communications director for the Obama Campaign and will now be White House Press Secretary.

Valerie Jarrett  (b. 1956, B.A., Stanford University; J.D., University of Michigan Law School), a Chicago lawyer, business woman and longtime Obama confidant, is co-chair of the transition team and will be White House Senior Advisor.

Jim Messina (b. 1969, B.A., University of Montana) has worked on numerous political staffs and campaigns. He will be Deputy Chief of Staff in the White House.

Ellen Moran (b.? B.A., Wheaton College) is currently Executive Director of EMILY’s LIST, an organization dedicated to electing more feminist Democratic women at all levels of government. She will be White House Communications Director.

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (b. 1964, B.A., Princeton University; J.D., Harvard Law School), successful Chicago lawyer and community activist, mother of two, is, of course, our new First Lady.

Mona Sutphen (b. 1968, B.A. in International Relations from Mount Holyoke University; M.Sc. in international community from London School of Economics) is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and worked in the Clinton administration. She is currently a consultant for a firm on international business. She will be Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Foreign Affairs.

Barack Hussein Obama II (b. 1961, B.A. in international relations, Columbia University; J.D., magna cum laude, Harvard Law School, president of the Harvard Law Review) has been a community organizer, state senator for Illinois, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Chicago Law School, U.S. Senator from Illinois and will now be President of the United States of America.

Not a bad cast for a first season at all! 🙂

January 19, 2009 Posted by | U.S. politics | 4 Comments

Born Again American?

Born Again American is a new project by Norman Lear that has debuted just in time for the inauguration of Barack Obama as 44th President of the USA.  Yes, that Norman Lear: liberal TV mogul of the ’60s and ’70s (responsible for such socially conscious comedies as All in the Family; Maude; The Jeffersons; & Sanford and Son among others) who decided to fight the influence of the Religious Right by forming People for the American Way.

In this latest project, Lear has teamed up with singer/songwriter Keith Carradine and Director Mark Johnson to create a song, video, and website that promotes a “liberal patriotism” that encourages people to put the common good before narrow self intest, to become involved in community and national service, and to hold government officials responsible for working for the common good.  The song (see the lyrics here) espouses economic populism (chastising both big business and government for the destruction of the working class and middle class) and a spirit of unity across religious and racial lines.  The website connects people with opportunities to serve and to get involved in holding government officials accountable. 

The song and concept are patriotic in the best senses of that term:  not militaristic jingoism that puts down other nations or divides the country into “real” and “fake” America, but eliciting pride in the country’s ideals AT THEIR BEST.  UPDATE:  I want to make it clear that I am not against patriotism per se.  It is natural for people everywhere to want to love their country, celebrate its ideals, and push it to live up to those ideals, purging it of its faults and historical sins.  As this article shows, the Right is in for a surprise since Obama’s election has led to an increase of non-jingoistic patriotism, despite all their efforts to portray him as a friend of terrorists and those of us who voted for him as haters of America.  The right kind of patriotism can help us get through hard times as we tackle enormous difficulties–just as militaristic, world hating, America-0nly forms of patriotism divided and destroyed us for 7 years following 9/11/01.  So, I welcome the right kind of patriotic renewal and want to share in it.

But there is also much civil religion in “Born Again American,”  and this makes me nervous.  Civil religion easily devolves into national idolatry. It seems strange that Lear, who has been such a relentless critic of the  civil religion of the Right, should now espouse a liberal version of the same.

I am uncomfortable with lyrics that quickly link “my Bible and the Bill of Rights” (a lyric that seems at odds with the religious diversity shown in the video–a Muslim cleric singing next to a female Jewish cantor, several choirs, Christian clergy from different traditions)–even though I have long contended that the deeper roots of the human rights tradition are biblical rather than just springing up full-blown from the Enlightenment.  And, while  I am a major proponent of interfaith dialogue (necessary for any peacemaking in today’s world), I don’t want the basis of such dialogue to be a common loyalty to the nation-state that transcends individual faith loyalties. That would make the nation-state our real god (an idol by any other name).

But I may be jumping at shadows.  Most of the prophetic forms of social change in this nation had SOME civil religious dimensions to them, from the Abolitionists to the first wave (19th C) of feminists to the civil rights movement.  It IS possible to promote a rebirth of the right kind of patriotism, with spiritual dimensions, without losing the possibility of prophetic critique of the nation, right?  And that is the point of this project.

The song, video, and website are hopeful–in place of a national despair or cynicism.  Further, it specifically recognizes that the changes needed in this nation at this moment of crisis will not be made solely by the new presidennt, nor even soley by government. It is a ringing call to personal and communal responsibility–of the kind that most people expected after 9/11 when our government, instead, told us to fight terrorism simply by going along with whatever illegal and disastrous foreign military adventures it planned and, at home,  to “go shopping.” I signed up to do my part.

But this born-again liberal Christian remains uncomfortable with being a “born again American.”  Is this just Lee Greenwood’s horrid “God Bless the USA” in liberal form–or am I being too cynical?  Check out the website, etc. and then give me your feedback on these tricky questions.

January 19, 2009 Posted by | Christianity, church-state separation, citizenship | 38 Comments