Who’s Responsible?

A man goes to a baseball field and shoots up the place where congressmen and their staffers are practicing for a charity baseball game. First, he asks one of the congressmen who is leaving whether the ones practicing are Democrats or Republicans. Glad to hear they are Republicans, whom he has castigated on social media and seeks to wipe off the face of America, he opens fire, spraying the field and wounding four; one congressman remains in critical condition.

The man who perpetrated the crime finally is taken down by police and dies shortly after at the hospital. Then the blame game begins.

Who is responsible for what this man did? Since he was a socialist and a follower of Bernie Sanders, is Sanders to blame? After all, Sanders has said some pretty harsh things about Republicans. Since the man hated Trump so much, perhaps Trump is the one who should be responsible because he “triggered” the man with his policies?

What’s the Biblical position?

Personal responsibility is an overwhelming theme in Scripture. We are responsible for the choices we make in life. No one forces us to make those choices. There can be influences upon us, things that push us in a certain direction, but when it comes down to choosing, that’s all on us.

There were influences on the man who decided to target Republicans. Some of those influences were way over the top in bitterness and hatred. There are people who are saying Republicans want everyone to die because they want to take away their healthcare. That’s one of the middle-of-the-road accusations. I won’t repeat the worst ones.

Yet those were influences only; he had to decide whether to follow through on them with a terrible deed. He died in his own sins; he’s responsible for what he did, regardless of what others said that might have egged him on.

However, there remains some culpability whenever anyone descends into hateful diatribes. God holds them accountable for that.

There is a difference, though, between vicious, hateful speech and truth-telling. As Christians, we are to speak the truth in love and we are called, as far as it depends on us, to be at peace with all men.

What’s the difference between truth-telling and hateful speech? Are we never, in our truth-telling, allowed to point out the real nature of certain philosophies and/or individuals who promote those philosophies?

Did I sin in numerous blogs when I disagreed with virtually everything Barack Obama stands for and how he conducted himself? Am I sinning now when I take Donald Trump to task for his character?

Have you ever looked carefully at Matthew 23? It’s a fascinating chapter wherein Jesus takes on the Pharisees in no uncertain terms. As you peruse that chapter, you find Him saying the following about them:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Was Jesus over the top when He referred to them as hypocrites? Notice that He even said they were not entering into heaven. Was that an unjust judgment?

Further down in the chapter, He calls them “a child of hell,” “blind guides,” “blind fools,” and “a brood of vipers.”

My particular favorite is his characterization of them as “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” They appear to be righteous but are really “full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

I gather from Jesus’s own example that we don’t have to pull our punches when pointing out sin. But here’s the catch: we can’t be hypocrites when we do so and we have to honestly seek to redeem those who are erring (check out chapter 7 of Matthew on proper judging). If we ever take satisfaction in merely telling people off and get a smug attitude about being right, then we’ve violated the spirit in which we are allowed to point out sin.

We all need to be willing to be truth-tellers, yet, at the same time, we must continually guard our hearts so that we carry it out in the proper spirit.

Each person is responsible for his/her own actions, whether in carrying out an evil deed or in using extreme language that might influence a person toward that deed.

Principles, Courage, & the Budget

A budget vote is coming. I’ve done my best to read both sides of the debate on what the Republican Congress has come up with this time. Yesterday, VP Pence was on the Rush Limbaugh program proclaiming it’s a win for the president, primarily because it increases defense spending.

Well, I’m glad it does that, given the various global crises we face: ISIS, Iran, North Korea, just to name the most prominent.

But what about the rest of this $1 trillion bill?

It continues to fund Planned Parenthood, that vile organization that has created a modern holocaust.

It continues to send money to sanctuary cities that are thumbing their noses at any type of curtailment of illegal immigration. Why should they be rewarded?

Some extra money is in it for border security, yet there is no mention of anything even remotely connected to Trump’s promise of a wall (not that I think he ever really believed in that long of a wall in the first place).

We’re told we must support this budget to keep the government running until September, then the Republicans in Congress will finally get down to business on what they said they would do.

The main reason why they don’t seem prepared to fight for anything substantive at this point is fear that they will be blamed for a government shutdown. That’s always the fear, and fear appears to drive their decisionmaking.

As a historian, I do understand that you can’t always get everything you want in legislation. Yes, there are compromises to be made. But how about compromises that don’t sacrifice basic principles such as the inherent value of human life? Allowing the funding of Planned Parenthood is a participation in murder. When will Republicans draw a line that cannot be crossed?

The litany of excuses grows:

  • We only have one house of Congress; how can you expect us to get anything passed?
  • We have Congress, but not the presidency, so anything we send to the White House will only get vetoed
  • We have Congress and the presidency, but we don’t have a 60-vote majority in the Senate to get what we want

If they were ever to get that 60-vote majority in the Senate, I’m almost convinced the argument will be that they don’t want to be portrayed in the media as heartless, so they will have to bow to what the Democrats want in order to be liked.

Whatever happened to principles? Why has spinelessness become the Republican fallback position?

In that interview that Pence did with Limbaugh, the host’s frustration came to the forefront in these words:

Okay, but why then is the president now suggesting a budget shutdown in September or October? If it’s no good now, why is it good then?

You guys were sent there to drain the swamp. There’s a clear Trump agenda that just isn’t seeable. It’s not visible in this budget, and some people are getting concerned that there’s more concern for bipartisanship and crossing the aisle, working with Democrats, than there is in draining the swamp and actually peeling away all of the roughage that is preventing actually moving forward here on so many of these issues that affect people domestically.

I’ve been a critic of Limbaugh ever since he jumped on the Trump Train with apparently no reservations, but he’s voicing a very important concern here, and he’s right to do so.

I’m reminded of this quote from Whittaker Chambers in Witness:

Men have never been so educated, but wisdom, even as an idea, has conspicuously vanished from the world.

I would add that principles and courage have dissipated along with wisdom.

Political Honesty: Not an Oxymoron

Oxymorons are words that don’t ordinarily go together—they come across as inherently contradictory. The classic is “jumbo shrimp.” I’ve always liked “congressional ethics”; others prefer “military intelligence.” I held an oxymoron contest one year with students. The co-winners were “study lounge” and “intense apathy.”

Why am I pondering oxymorons this morning? It has to do with the recently failed GOP healthcare fix. It wasn’t really a fix because it left the infrastructure of Obamacare largely intact, fixing virtually nothing, thereby qualifying as an oxymoron in practice.

Those within the GOP who stood firmly against this oxymoron are now being castigated by their fellows. Blame is being cast on the Freedom Caucus for undermining the Trump presidency. They are being told they have to back the president on everything he supports regardless of their own personal views on the efficacy of a proposed bill.

Personally, I’m grateful for those who held to principle, seeing that this bill was not better than what we currently have in Obamacare, and that it could actually be worse in that it undermines more than a temporary resident of the White House—it undermines conservative governing policies.

Yes, President Trump took his lumps with this one, but that’s fine. When you push something wrong, you deserve some lumps.

As is his usual practice, he now distances himself from a failure because . . . well, he simply doesn’t fail. It’s always someone else’s fault.

Here’s where the title of today’s blog comes in. We are in dire need of political honesty, a term that shouldn’t be an oxymoron. What I’m seeing now from some Republicans and/or supposed conservatives is an attempt to shift blame rather dishonestly.

Paul Ryan is the culprit, you see, not Donald Trump. He is the RINO who came up with this failed approach to repeal and replace; Trump is blameless.

Well, I certainly agree that Ryan followed a bad path here. Why he was willing to compromise the pledge Republicans made to wipe out Obamacare is discouraging, to say the least. Yet it’s time for political honesty on the part of those who are excusing Trump.

The president was just as much on board with this failure as Ryan was, yet Trump’s most stalwart defenders refuse to acknowledge it. How do they look past his open advocacy for the proposed bill? How do they ignore that his self-appointed proxy, Steve Bannon, went to the Freedom Caucus and told them they had no choice but to vote for this bill?

After the bill went down to inglorious defeat without even a vote, he was all aTwitter, ranting against those who held to principle. Now he’s saying he can get a better deal working with Democrats.

Right. Can you imagine what kind of compromise would come from that?

Donald Trump owns this just as much as Paul Ryan. But don’t tell AlwaysTrumpers that. They have become blind and deaf to his shortcomings.

He’s now trying to change the subject.

He’s the captain, regardless of what his defenders want us to believe. If you are upset at Ryan and see nothing amiss in what Trump did with this phony bill, political honesty is missing. If Ryan is to blame for it, so is Trump.

Please stop the dishonesty. Don’t be a walking oxymoron.

By the way, Democrats are playing this as a win, but let’s keep one thing in mind.

We’re all losers with Obamacare. It’s time for a genuine repeal and a principled plan for replacement.

Obamacare, Reality, & Leadership

Yesterday was supposed to be the big vote on the Republican bill to repeal (?), replace (?), revise (?), surrender on (?) Obamacare. It didn’t happen. Now today  is supposed to be the big day.

What’s the problem? Republicans can’t agree on whether this proposed bill does much of the above, and that has led to this impasse. This is a mess; it certainly doesn’t indicate competent leadership.

The most conservative House members say it leaves the essence of Obamacare in place; the majority of House Republicans blame the conservatives for blocking the best opportunity to reverse the Obamacare train wreck. Who is right?

I understand the strategy the GOP leadership says it is following: a three-step plan to eventually rid ourselves of this monstrous error. However, I don’t blame anyone for having doubts that the other two steps ever will occur. Yes, there are political realities, but if you campaign on a complete repeal and then do something less than that, you open yourself up to charges of hypocrisy.

And that’s what many conservatives are now charging the leadership with: rank hypocrisy.

Then, to make matters worse, we have Trump coming out and saying, in effect, either vote for this or else. I’ve also heard the voices of Republicans chastising conservatives because we all must get behind our president even if you don’t like this bill—even if you think it’s a joke.

As if the most important thing is to support President Trump above all else, regardless of what you believe about his policies (or his temperament or public accusations against anyone who dares oppose him).

I’m all for the Trump presidency being successful. I’m not for the attitude, “My way or the highway,” to repeat the cliché currently being bandied about.

Is this where we are today?

Is it any wonder why people get tired of politics?

Yet we cannot retreat and live in our own little bubbles. We cannot evade our responsibility to take these issues seriously and contribute what we can to the discussion.

For Christians, that’s what Jesus’s “salt and light” comments are all about, and no matter how dismayed we are over our politics and our culture at large, if we retreat, what then?

Get Rid of the “Precious”

The “Replace Obamacare Saga” continues. Critics of the whole idea of getting rid of this failed policy don’t really get it yet:

I’m not sure, though, that enough Republicans get it either:

The problem, as I see it, is that too many of the Republican leaders, and the guy in the White House, remain committed to the idea that the federal government has the authority to dictate healthcare. Republicans want to tinker with the Obamacare disaster, but they haven’t really grasped the fact that the government both shouldn’t and can’t succeed in this endeavor:

No matter how much Trump railed against Obamacare during the campaign, he persisted in promising that the government would make sure everyone is covered. Well, isn’t that what Obama promised? What’s the difference?

Why not free up the system and get the government out of it? Well, says the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the new Republican plan will throw a lot of people off health insurance. What it doesn’t take into account is that many of those are the ones who were forced to get the insurance in the first place. Maybe now they might opt out.

But that would be called liberty . . . and we certainly don’t want that. The Nanny State must be upheld.

Republicans, hear this message, please. Rid yourself of the “Precious.” Throw that Ring into the fires of Mordor once and for all.

Once that is accomplished, perhaps peace and common sense will prevail in the American Shire.

Maintaining Integrity in an Era of Conspiracies

I would rather write about weighty thoughts in Scripture, C. S. Lewis, or Whittaker Chambers. Yet the stupid antics of everyday politics always seem to intervene, and since I put myself out here as a commentator on all things cultural and political, I feel a certain necessity to offer what I hope are informed opinions on current events.

As I’ve noted previously, I’m trying very hard to be balanced in my perspective on President Trump. Although I warned against his nomination vigorously and detailed my reasons for opposition to him throughout the last campaign, I have determined to support him when I can now that he is our president.

I also will continue to point out the problems he causes. And that’s where I am today.

Last weekend, Trump used his infamous Twitter account to claim that the Obama administration wiretapped him prior to the election. I’ve waited a week to see if he has any evidence to back up the claim, but nothing has come forth.

By remaining silent on evidence, he has lost the confidence even of those in his own party. The House Intelligence Committee, controlled by Republicans, has called for him to put up or shut up by today.

What has he really gained by making the accusation?

Now, let me be clear that I would never put it past our former president to have done something like this. Obama’s absence of integrity is legendary, and his denials of wrongdoing lack, shall we say, credibility.

Yet Obama’s lack of integrity doesn’t lead me to believe that Trump therefore must be acting with integrity. Apparently, most Republicans agree:

My concern about Trump’s character goes back to the campaign. He constantly insulted all Republican contenders for the nomination and, in Ted Cruz’s case, made up all sorts of crazy accusations:

  • Cruz is not a natural-born citizen
  • Cruz had a flurry of affairs (unlike Mr. Trump, of course)
  • Cruz’s wife has dark secrets that will be exposed (and she’s ugly)
  • Cruz’s dad is somehow implicated in the JFK assassination

Need I go on?

We’re witnessing a new level of conspiracy charges on both sides of the political divide.

Rational thought seems to be plummeting into a sinkhole of political lunacy:

Christians are supposed to be the salt and light in a nation. Whenever we fall into this pattern of wild charges of conspiracy, we are abandoning our calling. My political conservatism stems from my Biblical faith, but I must never reverse the order. Politics must not determine my faith; my faith must inform my politics.

Christians, maintain your integrity.

GOP-acare?

Any study of American history will show that our system of government requires some compromise. Rarely does anyone get everything desired in legislation. The rule of thumb should always be whether one has concocted a principled compromise or has succumbed to a compromised principle.

As I look at the GOP replacement plan for Obamacare, I’m trying to figure out which type of compromise this one may be. Frankly, I’m far too busy at the moment to delve into all the inner workings of the new plan, but I have tried to keep up with reactions to it. Most conservative groups, it seems, are anything but overjoyed with this particular compromise.

To be fair, we must realize that Obama put into operation something that might be hard to extricate ourselves from completely at first:

Most legislative monstrosities created by “progressives” are like that:

I’m sure there was a lot of debate on how to proceed:

Republicans were bold in passing a total repeal when Obama was president, but how much of that boldness was phony, based on the reality that he would veto anything they passed anyway? They could look principled while not having to deal with the results of their actions. Not so any more.

To all of you who thought Trump was going to go all out and force repeal, you might have missed something: out of his mouth also came the assurance that the federal government would make sure everyone is covered.

Now, how does that square with total repeal?

Let’s be honest here: Trump was saying whatever sounded good; he had no real concept of how to dump the Obamacare fiasco and set up something else. He just wanted to get elected.

So what approach have Republicans settled for?

Good luck with that.

Conservative critics of the new GOP-acare point to the penalty that still remains for those who allow insurance to lapse, while still maintaining that the individual mandate has been eliminated. If you continue to be fined for not having insurance, isn’t that an individual mandate?

One cartoonist expresses how many conservatives are feeling:

Meanwhile, I’ll try to be one of those who offers this reminder: the Constitution says nothing about the federal government having the authority to legislate on the matter of healthcare—at all.

Why not try that and see how the market might meet the need? Naw, too scary.

Scarier than what we have now?