Monday, March 26, 2012

Santorum and Satan: Three Speeches

Rick Santorum probably won’t win the Republican nomination for President. But he certainly has won many Republican primary votes across America during this long campaign. What distinguishes Santorum’s campaign is his emphasis on religion, and the way he wants to place his religion into our government. Three speeches tell us about what kind of President Santorum wishes to be.

In August 2008, Santorum spoke at Ave Maria University in Florida about the McCain-Obama Presidential contest and about America. “This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on . . . the United States of America. . . . He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions. The place where he was, in my mind, the most successful and first successful was in academia. . . . And so academia, a long time ago, fell. . . . the next was the church. . . . we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it. . . . the body politic held up fairly well up until the last couple of decades, but it is falling too.”

“The colleges” have fallen, most or all of them, except perhaps Ave Maria. That may be why Santorum argued last month that President Obama wanted to brainwash our youth: “I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely . . . The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.”

Then the churches fell. According to Santorum, mainline Protestant churches are no longer Christian. This is surprising, since according to a Pew survey of registered voters in 2011, 51% of mainline Protestants support Republicans, while only 39% support Democrats. But Santorum’s voters come especially from evangelical Protestants, among whom 70% lean Republican and 24% lean Democratic.

I wonder whether he thinks the Devil has completely triumphed in black Protestant churches, where 88% are Democrats. He certainly believes that President Obama has “fallen”. He said last month about Obama’s agenda, “It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.”

A second speech that reveals much about Santorum the politician was given just last week in Louisiana by Pastor Dennis Terry of Greenwell Springs Baptist Church, introducing Santorum to his parishioners: “This nation was founded as a Christian nation … there’s only one God and his name is Jesus. If you don‘t love America and you don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say — Get out! We don’t worship Buddha. I said we don’t worship Buddha. We don’t worship Mohammed. We don’t worship Allah. We worship God. We worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”

Well, some do, some don’t. About 75 million Americans do not worship Jesus Christ. The audacity of our founders, who all had their roots in countries where Christianity was the government-sponsored religion, was to create a nation with no official church. Santorum applauded while Pastor Terry shouted that non-Christians should “get out” of America.

Finally the relationship of religion and politics can be seen in Santorum’s reaction to a third speech by another Catholic candidate for President, John F. Kennedy. JFK addressed that relationship directly and courageously in front of a group of Protestant ministers in Texas in September 1960. About that speech, Santorum said in October, “Early in my political career, I had an opportunity to read the speech and I almost threw up. You should read the speech.” Santorum liked that image so much, he said again last month that the speech “makes me throw up.”

What makes Santorum sick? Here is some of what JFK said: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute . . . I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish, where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source, where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials . . . Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end, where all men and all churches are treated as equal, where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice . . . and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood. . . . I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”

I believe in Kennedy’s America. Not in Rick Santorum’s, where those who do not agree with him have been captured by the Devil, where a man who tells non-Christians to “get out” is applauded, where religious intolerance is used as a campaign strategy.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 27, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What We Can Learn from Surveys

If you haven’t been called to participate in a survey this week, you’ll probably be asked next week. Voters are increasingly accosted by exit pollers wanting to know who they are and how they voted. Fake commercial surveys to get you to buy products and fake political surveys which insist that you share their opinion compete with real surveys, all trying to find out what we collectively do and think.

For all of my professional life, I have worked with population censuses, the most democratic survey of all. Well-done surveys hold up a mirror to our American society. Over decades surveys show us changing, slowly but hopefully.

Marriage is the most important choice we make, the most celebrated and the most personal. Surveys show us how American marriage is changing. Before 1950, marriage between whites and blacks was illegal in most states, and this reflected popular sentiment among whites: a 1958 Gallup poll showed that 96% of white Americans disapproved of interracial marriage. During the 1950s, these laws were repealed in state after state, except in the South. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1967 that Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional, only 17 Southern states still enforced such laws.

Since then, American marriage has become more colorful. In 1980, 7% of all new marriages were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity. That number increased to 15% by 2010. More than one-third of Americans (35%) say that a close relative is married to someone of a different race. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) say it “would be fine” if a member of their family married outside their own racial or ethnic group.

Americans have been asked about their attitudes toward gay marriage over the past 15 years. The percentage who favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry has risen steadily from 27% in 1996 to 46% last year. In 2011 for the first time, more Americans approved of gay marriage than opposed it. That shift has been driven by younger Americans: 61% of those born after 1980 approve, 48% of those born between 1965 and 1980, but only 32% of those born before 1945. Those results leave little doubt that the overall proportion of Americans approving of gay marriage will continue to grow for decades.

As in the case of interracial marriage, discriminatory claims have clashed with people’s experience. We have heard the arguments of the homophobic right for decades, but our experiences with gay people, as with people of other ethnic backgrounds, have demonstrated that those arguments are both wrong and mean-spirited. Once the enforced segregation of black and gay Americans into closets and ghettos was broken, discriminatory ideas have lost their persuasive power.

These surveys don’t tell us what is right or moral or constitutional. They do show Americans changing ideas and practices, heading toward equality and away from discrimination.

A second subject of survey data has been making recent headlines. About 6 in 10 Americans have heard about the controversy over a federal rule that all employers, including most religiously affiliated institutions, must provide coverage for birth control in their health care insurance plans. Among those aware of the issue, 48% believe the federal rule should give an exemption to religious institutions who object to providing contraceptive coverage, and 44% oppose such an exemption.

As arguments continue to be made, and this issue plays a role in the Presidential election, these percentages may shift, but one thing is already clear. For one side to call the other side immoral or un-American means excluding half of all Americans. The survey does not tell us which policy is right or better. But it does tell us that each side has enough right on its side to persuade half of everyone we know not to agree with us.

Surveys do not provide political solutions to controversial issues, but they help us make better political decisions. When we see a growing majority of Americans welcoming racial and sexual diversity in our families, we know that laws should follow. When we see Americans evenly divided on a major issue, we know that our proper policy probably lies somewhere in the middle, with a compromise that sufficiently respects religious beliefs, without injuring women’s health or violating the separation of church and state.

We see that extremists’ doomsday predictions and intolerant attitudes are the desperate tactics of a shrinking minority.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 20, 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Anatomy of an Apology

Rush Limbaugh ignited another attention-getting furor by calling a college student who testified before Congress a prostitute. This incident reveals nothing new about Limbaugh, who makes millions by being nasty to anyone who does not share his extreme politics. But we can learn about the state of political discourse in today’s America.

Here’s how it all began. Democratic members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform asked that Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke testify at a February 16 hearing on the controversial new government rules requiring employers to cover contraception in their insurance policies. Fluke is a law student and former president of Law Students for Reproductive Justice. The chair of the committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican from California, refused to let Fluke or any other witness requested by the Democrats testify. The only testifiers were leaders of religious institutions who opposed the contraception coverage requirement and who supported Issa’s contention that the issue was one of religious freedom, not women’s health.

The Democrats held an unofficial hearing on February 23, where Ms. Fluke criticized the lack of coverage of contraception by her Georgetown University insurance policy as harming female students.

Conservative commentators jumped on Fluke as a symbol of “sex-crazed co-eds” who wanted taxpayers to “pay for us to have sex”. Then Limbaugh piled on, repeating that fabricated version of this health-care issue, and escalating the attack on Fluke. On his February 29 broadcast, getting her name wrong, he said: “What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.”

The next day, March 1, Limbaugh described Fluke as “an immoral, baseless, no-purpose-to-her life woman”, who is “having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk.” He wondered, “Who bought your condoms in the sixth grade?” Limbaugh liked this so much, the next day, March 2, he repeated it: “She's having sex so frequently that she can't afford all the birth-control pills that she needs. That's what she's saying. . . . I'm not making any of it up.”

Even advertisers who had previously accepted Limbaugh’s crude tirades decided to abandon him for slandering this young woman. Buy now over 50 sponsors of his radio show have canceled their advertising.

On March 3, Limbaugh posted on his website: “I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke. . . . in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”

Two days later, Limbaugh explained exactly what he meant: “those two words were inappropriate. They were uncalled for. They distracted from the point that I was actually trying to make, and I again sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for using those two words to describe her. . . . The apology to her over the weekend was sincere. It was simply for using inappropriate words in a way I never do.”

By limiting his apology to “two words”, Limbaugh let all of his other words stand. Rush was apparently upset that saying “slut” might distract anyone from the point he was making: “she and her coed classmates are having sex nearly three times a day for three years straight, apparently.”

What is political talk like in America? Some people talk nasty and nastier, hoping to prevent the next Sandra Fluke from expressing herself. Bigmouths thrive in the silence of others. They can’t be changed by shame or correction. When they get called out by a few, they back off, lie about what they said and meant, and try again.

Some people say “tut-tut”. Romney said, “I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used.” Boehner let his spokesman say, “The Speaker obviously believes the use of those words was inappropriate.” Since they said nothing more, do they agree that Ms. Fluke needs sex three times a day, but would have used a more refined vocabulary? Rick Santorum said that Limbaugh was “being absurd. But that's, you know, an entertainer can be absurd.” How does that entertainer square with his family values?

We need a functioning democracy, not a political reality show. It goes beyond turning on or off, buying or boycotting someone’s products, acting privately on one’s principles.

Only if we the people speak out, enter the public arena even in the most modest way, let our voices be heard, can we take back our polluted political culture from shouting loudmouths and their sycophants.

Here’s an example to follow. Georgetown University President John DeGioia released a letter with this plea: “In an earlier time, St. Augustine captured the sense of what is required in civil discourse: ‘Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly.’”

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 13, 2012

Monday, March 5, 2012

Black and White in Jacksonville

Racial problems will be with us until humans grow out of the need to feel superior to other kinds of humans. Sometimes and in some places racial beliefs become violent expressions of superiority against minorities, as they were in Europe and America for much of the 20th century. Sometimes these judgments about people “not like us” are more quietly held, erupting only occasionally, but persisting below the surface.

So it is important to talk and write about race, to make sure that the pretense that it no longer affects our lives is exploded. The history of race in our town, the story of black and white in Jacksonville from 1825 until today, shapes our present and future. That story is not necessarily a happy one: the KKK flourished in this part of Illinois in the 1920s, attracting many prominent and ordinary citizens. But it is always fascinating and revealing about us and about the larger American story.

One reason to want to find out much more about our history, is that Jacksonville compared well with other American communities. Early in its history, Jacksonville citizens and Illinois College students cooperated to help escaped slaves and to advocate for the end of slavery, even if it meant fighting with some of their neighbors. When many counties across the US enforced “sundown laws” keeping black Americans from living amongst them, Jacksonville’s black and white citizens lived here side-by-side. More recently, integrated athletic teams from Jacksonville High School demonstrated to many nearby segregated Illinois communities that mixing black and white could be normal, on and off the field.

That mixing in Jacksonville was regulated by the racism of stores and restaurants which black families could not enter, of high school dances for white students only, of neighborhood covenants which allowed only whites to buy property. Yet it also included black and white family friendships, educational integration and commercial partnerships. Our town has not been blameless, but Jacksonville’s citizens have leaned in the right direction since our founding.

At this year’s Unity Breakfast in January, Merritt and Larry Norvell offered powerful reminders about the white and black aspects of our past. I thank Mayor Andy Ezard for arranging and hosting this event, which I would like to follow with a broader project of historical collection and display. We have in great riches in Jacksonville to teach ourselves about the history of black and white. Like the Norvells, many people possess invaluable memories of the last 50 or more years of our history, and stories about times much further back. Photographs record moments in that history with great clarity. Personal papers tell about daily life in Jacksonville families.

I propose to gather in a systematic way information about the history of people in our town. In particular, I would like to collect family photographs, interviews, and other records of life in Jacksonville, and make them available to everyone to look at, listen to, and learn from.

“Black and White in Jacksonville” can include everyone who was here, whatever color skin, birthplace, language, or culture. It can be a public-private partnership and could bring together political, educational, and commercial institutions. Such a project should involve people of all kinds, jobs, and backgrounds. It could make Jacksonville even more attractive, to us and to others outside, who might want to see what we have learned.

I am an historian. Dreaming up historical projects is what we do. The roots of this project lie in the 1970s, when Charles Frank, an IC Professor of English, interviewed one hundred of his neighbors and friends. He planned to write an oral history of Jacksonville, and his work will be the foundation of any future local history. The idea of focusing on race came from some of my students, who have been recording interviews over the past five years with some Jacksonville residents about their experiences of race.

A good historical project is a group effort, integrating diverse perspectives, bringing people together who may not have cooperated before. Although this subject matter includes unhappy experiences, talking about them is the best way to create a better, more socially equal, more cooperative future. I cannot predict what surprises, exhibits, or websites might come out of “Black and White in Jacksonville”. I can predict that we will be richer for rediscovering our past so we can more consciously shape our future.

I hope that many of you will contribute to and gain from this project.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 6, 2012