Friday, May 30, 2008

"Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest"

There is no contradiction between Shakespeare and popular culture. What could be more popular than William Shakespeare? How many playwrights being produced today will still have their plays running 400 years from now? You can’t get much more popular than that. Other things just seem to pop up and people mistakenly believe they’ve been around forever. Just look at the hot issues in today’s political battleground.

While the current political questions may be: are Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Father Michael Pfleger, or for that matter, Pastor John Hagge – are they troublesome priests, and can Barack Obama or John McCain be compared to Henry II? – a more relevant and certainly more American question is: whatever happened to the strict constructionists?

The US Constitution has been around since 1787. Have you read it lately? Have you read it – ever? Its not a long or ponderous document. It consists of only 7 Articles with 84 separate clauses. Most of its sentences are not too wordy and say, fairly concisely, what they mean. It helps in understanding if one has a decent comprehension of the language. But a complicated, highly educated sense of the English language is not required. If, for example, you understand the difference between may and shall, you’re off to a good start. With the Constitution, as with many things in life, the failure to distinguish between what is obligatory and what is purely optional is often disastrous. And sometimes fatal.

Richard Nixon was the first American in public life to use the phrase strict constructionist. How did that happen? How did we survive 180 years of constitutional existence without knowing the difference between a strict constructionist and the obvious opposite – a constitutional activist? Somehow we managed. Since Nixon, the Right has become enthralled, some might say obsessed, with strict constructionism and its shorter, more catchy contemporaneous nickname, originalism.

What I want to know is – here, in the midst of the 2008 Presidential campaign – whatever happened to the strict constructionists? – or – How did the candidate’s religion get to be an issue of any concern, to anyone? Hasn’t anybody read the Constitution?

Article VI is what I’m referring to, Clause 3 to be more specific. It needs some strict construction, and it needs it in a damn hurry. Here it is, short and simple.

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

Let’s get strict with this. Its time for some construction, damnit! First, the Oath of Office that every President shall be bound to affirm, does not contain the words: So help me God. Let me repeat that – DOES NOT CONTAIN – that phrase. Each and every President who has said that line, ADDED IT HIMSELF and thus – with that phrase - took his first unconstitutional action.

Second, if “no religious Test shall ever be required,” why are we wasting our time with all these Reverends, Priests, Bishops and whatever they call themselves? Why do we even pay attention to the Archbishop or Cardinal who refuses John Kerry communion – or the evangelical mega church minister who claims this country was founded to “destroy Islam” and then goes ahead and announces his support for John McCain for President – or the Catholic priest who ridicules and humiliates Hillary Clinton because she so openly and badly wants to be President while supporting Barack Obama who also wants to be President, as openly and as badly as Mrs. Clinton?

Polls say that almost a-third of the nation is unaware that Obama is a Christian. Believe it or not, 11% say he’s a Muslim. Where do they get that from? More importantly, who cares? Certainly not the strict constructionists. I’ve been told that Ronald Reagan never ended a Presidential speech by saying, “God bless America.” That popular ending to Presidential addresses is not Shakespearian; its recent. Well, who cares? Certainly not the strict constructionists.

A real strict constructionist cares about fidelity to the Constitution. The next time you hear someone talking about Obama and his “Rev. Wright problems” or commenting pro or con about the religious zealots who support McCain, ask yourself, as a law abiding American citizen, a historical supporter of the US Constitution – a strict constructionist in the proper sense of the term – ask yourself, who cares?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Keith Olberman - Not Your Usual Talking Head

I've always liked Keith Olberman from his early days on ESPN. He has found his place with his MSNBC show and I hope he doesn't fall victim to one of the GE suits who might cut him off at the knees someday. Commentators who have a sports background - going all the way back to Twain and HL Menchen - seem less inclined to accept bullshit with their facts, and nonsense with their analysis. This week, when Hillary Clinton uttered her "Bobby Kennedy" assassination assertion, the usual suspects, the regular talking heads on the TV took turns, one after the other, saying that Hillary was a wonderful person and she couldn't have really meant anything about Obama getting assassinated. "Too dark," many of them said. "A misstatement" deserving of whatever they meant by "the benefit of the doubt." They sided with familiar rationalizations rather than paying attention to their lying ears.

Keith Olberman did not fall into this black hole of instant revisionism and automatic forgiveness. And I think his background is partially responsible. Sports guys, like Olberman, recognize results and properly equate motive with performance. They understand what a final score is. They know the loser never "outplays" the winner. That's why they keep score. Every game ends with a number and each and every winner has the better one. More importantly, as it impacts Mrs. Clinton, Olberman is used to watching performers who give it their all - 100% - who are trying with every ounce of their energy. There's no such thing as a lucky shot in golf or a lucky home run in baseball. Yes, they really are trying to hit the ball in the hole and into the stands.

In politics, the truth can't be that much different from sports. Mrs. Clinton learned that the hard way. Her victory in the Kentucky Primary will always be overshadowed by her loss in the Kentucky Derby. As a sign of everything wrong with her campaign, she insisted on backing the ill-fated Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby. The filly was beaten by Big Brown... and she died! What an image. I almost felt sorry for Hillary. Until the other day.

Seems to me she must be actively telling uncommitted superdelegates they ought to pick her because she can get white people to vote for her (and he can't) and she can live to be inaugurated (and he can't!). Yikes! She was well aware the Editorial Board was taping her appearance. The quantity and quality of her live, unrehearsed, contemporaneous comments has been few and none for this last year of campaigning. Of course, she knew what she was saying in South Dakota. She always does. So, the cast of characters who earn their living on the TV talking about things they don't understand any better than anyone else does, jumped to Mrs. Clinton's defense. And Olberman wouldn't have any of that - she's a good old, well meaning girl crap. He stands alone.

That's what makes his show, "Countdown" so interesting to watch. He is more Howard than Edward R. He takes Cosell out of the football booth and puts him smack in the middle of what's really happening in the world. He recognizes truth even when its uncomfortable. Yes,the far-right evangelical pastors tend to be anti-Semites. And so is Billy Graham, too. Yes, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, and who knows how many others, are cheaters. And yes, Hillary Clinton does wish Barack Obama would die, disappear and let her be President, for Christ's sake! I don't know anything about his private life, but Olberman's unclouded understanding of Mrs. Clinton tells me he must be a parent. Every father knows the cry of "gimme, gimme,'s mine, mine, mine" when he hears it.