Are evangelicals becoming liberals?

Don’t look now, but the Southern Baptist Convention is turning into a bunch of liberals.  At least that is how hyper-partisans like Glen Beck and Sarah Palin would describe them.  Recently, the SBC has come out in favor of environmental regulation and comprehensive immigration reform, two issues that put them at odds with conventional right-wing ideology.

First of all the SBC passed the following resolution in the wake of the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:

“The Convention called on the government “to act determinatively and with undeterred resolve to end this crisis … to ensure full corporate accountability for damages, clean-up and restoration … and to ensure that government and private industry are not again caught without planning for such possibilities.”

Dr. Russell Moore, the dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and preacher at Highview Baptist Church near Louisville, Ky., helped pass the resolution.  He believes that conservatives should not, as Milton Friedman preached, have a lassez-faire view of government regulation:

“We, as Christians, believe in sin. That means if people are sinful, if all of us are sinful, then all of us have to have accountability — and that includes corporations.  Simply trusting corporations to go about their business without polluting the water streams and without destroying ecosystems is really a naive and utopian view of human nature. It’s not a Christian view of human nature… Human flourishing means a healthy natural environment, and it simply isn’t good for ourselves or for our neighbors to live in a world that is completely paved over and in which every piece of green land is replaced with a Bed, Bath, and Beyond,” he says. “That’s not how God designed human beings to live.”

In addition to that resolution, leaders in the SBC are coming out in favor of comprehensive immigration reform that includes both border security and a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.  Richard Land, head of SBC’s Public Policy Arm, is trying to convince Conservatives that compromise makes political sense:

“I’ve had some of them appeal to me. They say, ‘Richard, you’re going to divide the conservative coalition.’ And I said, ‘Well, I may divide the old conservative coalition, but I’m not going to divide the new one.’ If the new conservative coalition is going to be a governing coalition, it’s going to have to have a significant number of Hispanics in it, that’s dictated by demographics, and you don’t get large numbers of Hispanics to support you when you’re engaged in anti-Hispanic immigration rhetoric.”

Land believes that the fight over the Hispanic vote is being won by the Democrats, which could put Republicans in a bind for years to come:

“The people who have been anti-immigration have lost every one of these arguments,” he says. “They lost it with the Irish in the 1830s and ’40s and turned them into Democrats for three generations. They lost it with the Italians in the 1890s and the early part of the 20th century and turned the Italians into Democrats for three generations. I mean, you know, do they want to do it with the Hispanics too?”

It is surprising for me to discover that I agree with the Southern Baptist Convention on two major issues.  It would be a big coup if Conservatives could make the shift the SBC is advocating.  I am confident, however, that Sarah Palin’s opposition to environmental regulation will win the day.  I am also confident that Republicans will continue to look only at the short term on immigration, as their base gets older and older.  In other words, despite their best efforts, I don’t think the SBC will be able to save the Republican Party.

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The growing consensus around the 2nd Amendment

In the Navy, I was trained to safely use handguns like this one.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago, ruled that the 2nd Amendment applies to state and local laws, as well as federal laws.  Their decision will likely end the handgun ban in Chicago, two years after a similar law was struck down in the District of Columbia.  The ruling is likely the final blow to gun prohibition in this country as a principle.  However, the ruling was not a free for all for gun rights.  In fact, the decision supported reasonable restrictions on gun rights, enough to make the Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke happy:

‘”The crucial part of the ruling today is that it really is fairly narrow,” noting that the court acknowledged gun-control restrictions that fall short of bans. “The one extreme of handgun bans, total gun bans, that’s off the table now. But they’ve also taken the extreme any gun, anywhere, anybody, anytime–that’s off the table too,” Helmke said.’

Now, advocates of strict gun control point out that 258 Chicago public school students were shot last year.  However, those guns were introduced into the city in the midst of the handgun ban, which begs the question of whether prohibition really works. Certainly, a close look at the ‘War on Drugs’ would show you that the war is being lost.  Looking at guns, what level of restriction is reasonable?  A consensus has grown supporting the 2nd Amendment in this country, so much so that both Sarah Palin and Harry Reid applauded yesterday’s ruling.  In fact, Democrats look to benefit politically from this ruling in November.

However, what about the gun show loophole?  Should potential gun owners be required to undergo a background check before purchasing a weapon?  The loophole, where buyers can get guns from private dealers at gun shows, exists.  The NRA argues that the loophole is a ‘myth:’

“Though Congress specifically has applied the background check requirement to dealers only, and specifically exempted from the dealer licensing requirement persons who occasionally sell guns from their personal collections, gun prohibition activists call this a “loophole.” Gun prohibitionists also falsely claim that many criminals get guns from gun shows; the most recent federal study puts the figure at only 0.7 percent.”

Obviously, there is a conflict between the report from ABC and the NRA legislative wing.  There is no doubt that the NRA would be tickled pink if all gun laws were struck down.  However, the consensus around the 2nd Amendment does not go as far as the NRA fantasizes.  Most people would support reasonable restrictions.

Anyone who has watched the Wire has no illusions about gun restrictions keeping guns away from criminals.  In fact, gun laws are often used as valid charges to arrest criminals by police.  Any gun regulation should make it a sensible process to buy and sell weapons.   However, there should also be enforceable restrictions, requiring background checks, that are reasonable.  Education on gun safety should be part of that restriction.

I grew up in Northwest Pennsylvania, and underwent hunter safety training in middle school.  Guns were very common in that rural community, but it was clear to me at a young age that they were dangerous and needed to be handled the right way.  Later, in the Navy, I was responsible for many weapons, and their safe use.  We conducted lots and lots of training for the folks who had to bear those weapons on watch.  In the Navy, when weapons were taken for granted, the conditions for misuse were created.  That is why training and education are so crucial.

At the end of the day, while some will look at yesterday’s Supreme Court decision as a victory for gun owners and the NRA, I look at it as a reflection of the growing consensus around reasonable restriction.  Like abortion and other emotional issues, there will always be zealots on both sides.  However, as Politico observes, the decision removes those zealots from the decision making process in November.


Good riddence Arlen: lessons from Tuesday

If there is one thing that both Democrats and Republicans can agree on, many were happy on Tuesday to see Republican turned Democrat ousted by former Navy Admiral Joe Sestak in the Pennsylvania Senate Primary.  Folks of Generation Y vintage may be too young to remember Specter’s grilling of Anita Hill during the Confirmation Hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Well, the video above only gets more disgusting with age.  Good riddance, Arlen.

However, that was not the only surprise during the Tuesday elections.  In PA-12, the Democrats surprisingly held on to the seat of stalwart John Murtha, who died earlier this year.  The race between (D) Rep. Mark Critz and Tim Burns was a precursor to a rematch this fall.  The Democrats showed here that they are tactically superior to Republicans, and that they are the big tent party, as Critz opposed health care reform.

In Kentucky, Tea Party darling Rand Paul defeated Secretary of State Tim Grayson, the candidate selected by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to replace Jim Bunning.  McConnell favored Grayson, a former Bill Clinton staffer and supporter, because he fit within the box that the GOP would like to paint its candidates to appeal to the great center.  Rand Paul, the libertarian financed by supporters of his father, Ron Paul, is beholden to no political hack (at least not a GOP one).  His views definitely fit outside the box, however.  He favors the elimination of the Department of Education and farm subsidies, for starters.  He thinks businesses should be allowed to discriminate those who they serve, and that Medicare’s eligibility and benefits should be diminished.  Those positions all appeal to certain segments of society, but more importantly they do not appeal to the constituencies and interests that decide national elections.  While he hopes to pull Democrats onto his side in the fall, Joshua Green points out that the Tea Party support was overblown by FOX News, and may not have registered as much to actual Kentucky voters:

“There was certainly activity geared toward the GOP primary. But the Rand Paul rallies I attended in mid-sized cities like Paducah and Bowling Green drew crowds of only a hundred so, and they were far more subdued than the angry Tea Party masses portrayed on cable television. Grayson’s crowds were even smaller. What was most notable about a race that was captivating the national media was how little it seemed to penetrate the consciousness of most Kentuckians. It was a big a deal only to a small group of energized Republicans. But more Democrats voted (about 500,000) than Republicans (350,000).”

Looking closer to home, where I live in the Ocean State, local Tea Party leaders are now at odds with would be-environmentalist Republican Governor Don Carcieri.  They oppose the wind farms planned for the coastal waters off of Rhode Island, despite a personal plea in a private meeting.   Apparently, they prefer the daily deployment of the fleet of diesel trucks that now light up the generator on Block Island.  This conflict is symbolic of the inability of the GOP to harness the wild energy of the Tea Party movement, and the inability of Tea Party members to appeal to moderates.

UPDATE (5/24): Michael Steele, embattered head of the RNC, came out on Sunday against Rand Paul’s libertarian views on Civil Rights:

“I think his philosophy is misplaced in these times,” said Steele during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “I don’t think it’s where the country is right now. The country litigated the issue of separate but equal, the country litigated the rights of minority people in this country to access the enterprise, free enterprise system, and accommodation and all of that. And that was crystallized in the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of ’64. And I think that the party stands very firmly behind its efforts then as we do now, to press forward on new civil rights issues… But I think in this case, Rand Paul’s philosophy got in the way of reality.”

In a separate appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Steele said: “I think it’s important to understand that Rand Paul has clarified his statement and reiterated his support for…pushing civil rights forward, as opposed to going backwards. Any attempt to look backwards is not in the best interest of our country certainly, and certainly not in the best interest of the party.”

At the same time, Sarah Palin made the point that Rachael Maddow was prejudiced for asking the question of Rand Paul in the first place.  I suppose, in Palin’s world, if only pre-scripted FOX News journalists existed, then she would be Vice-President.