Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Fine Art of Fake Outrage

SKEPTIC: Republicans have made a fine art out of pretending to be outraged. Here's the formula: take something your opponent says, distort it beyond all recognition, and then feign outrage in an attempt to score a few cheap political points by riling up the base. The classic example of this was the "Lipstick on a Pig" episode during the presidential campaign when Obama used the common idiom in a speech when talking about politicians who pretend to want change. Time to crank up the fake outrage. Since Sarah Palin had referenced lipstick while making a lame joke in her big speech at the Republican convention, wasn't it obvious that Obama was calling Palin a pig? 

So apparently Palin, having refined the art of fake outrage during the campaign by continually saying that Obama "palled around with terrorists," thought she'd give it another shot. When David Letterman recently made a joke about Palin's 18-year-old daughter Bristol (who famously had gotten herself "knocked up") getting "knocked up" at a baseball game by Alex Rodriquez, dear sweet Sarah managed to morph it into "David Letterman made a joke about raping my 14-year-old daughter," and insinuated that he was some sort of creepy pedophile. Even Letterman's apology was not enough to get her to back off, not when she thought she could score more political points. Talk about lame-itude.

PREACHER: I guess you caught me sleeping on some of the incidents you mention in your comment above. But doesn't David Letterman kind of make a living on making fun of people anyway? A lot of folks seem to enjoy hearing those on the far left and right get enraged with each other. I find it kind of boring. So the media makes a big deal of it to get the ratings up. Letterman did need to get some some of his viewers back from the new guy on the NBC late night show. What better way to do it than get Sarah Palin riled up with some sexual innuendo? Ladies don't like to be the brunt of men's seedy jokes. As for the fine art of fake outrage, I have had some comments made to me on this blog by a rather left-leaning lady that make me out to be a male chauvinist pig all because I guessed that she was much younger than she really was. Different political leaning, but same lame-itude.

SKEPTIC: I guess you missed the big Letterman-Palin brouhaha. I've included the video above to show how far some people on the right were willing to go to make their point. It wasn't really the media at fault here, though. It was Sarah Palin who made really over-the-top comments about Letterman and the joke in what was a transparent attempt to keep her face in the news, and then she went out of her way to stoke the fires every chance she got. The odd thing was that Letterman was hardly the first comedian to make a joke that referenced her daughter and the situation regarding her pregnancy, but Palin saw an opening and went for it. One has to wonder, though, if her political instincts are really that sharp when she attacks a popular cultural figure in such a way.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Can You be Pro-Life and Still be a Killer?

SKEPTIC: Dr. George Tiller has become the ninth person to be gunned down in cold blood by a pro-life zealot. The pro-life community condemns the killing with a wink and a nod. The video above is a perfect example. This preacher attempts to explain why the Bible says Christians shouldn't rejoice in the assassination of Dr. Tiller, but then spends seven minutes essentially rejoicing in exactly that. The number of ugly, hateful comments on right-wing blogs celebrating the killing is extremely disturbing. (But kudos to "Little Green Footballs," a conservative blog which has strongly condemned such comments.)

I'm sure we can both agree that pro-life assassins represent the extreme, lunatic fringe of the pro-life movement and that the vast majority of pro-lifers are sincere, well-meaning folks who would never resort to committing such heinous crimes. But when pro-lifers routinely use extreme rhetoric like "abortion is murder" and call doctors "baby-killers," I think they bear some responsibility for creating an environment in which psychotic terrorists feel like they have the right to commit murder in the name of God. Hateful commentators like Bill O'Reilly, who has spent years demonizing Dr. Tiller, also bear some responsibility.

PREACHER: This event is truly a sad commentary on our "modern" society. No doubt, there will be those who will use it as an excuse to kiss Christianity goodbye, because both Dr. Tiller and his killer claim to be Christians. I think that we are just reaping the results of moral relativism, also known as situation ethics. Dr. Tiller really believed that he was doing right by terminating unwanted pregnancies and it didn't even keep him from going to church. His killer also really believed he was doing the right thing avenging the deaths of thousands of innocents. Those that leave Christianity and non-believers really believe that they are right for not believing all that religious nonsense that just leads you to do irrational things. Tiller, the killer, and the non-believer would all defend themselves as being right and rational. They would all probably use scientific data and certain quotes from the Bible (while ignoring others, though) as evidence to justify themselves. However, all three are in the same boat really, even the fundamentalist. Whether they like it or not, they are all strongly influenced by moral relativism.

SKEPTIC: Well, you make an interesting point about moral relativism, although I think that Dr. Tiller's killer was more than likely a moral absolutist, seeing everything in black and white terms, unwilling to acknowledge shades of gray. However, I'd like to focus on the more narrow subject of the effect of right-wing vitriolic rhetoric on creating a toxic political environment, which contributes to violence. (For the record, I believe that the left can also be guilty of this kind of rhetoric, but the difference is that it doesn't lead to violence.)

As a case in point, why do conservatives insist on calling those who disagree with them "pro-abortion?" It's as if they believe that people just can't wait to get an abortion, maybe that it's even fun, and what the heck, maybe everybody should try it at least once. NOBODY likes abortion. It's a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching decision that women are faced with every day. People who consider themselves pro-choice believe just that; women need to have options when it comes to their health. They need to make informed decisions with their doctor and not have the government dictate what they must do with their bodies.

I think President Obama has hit exactly the right note when it comes to abortion. His focus is on finding common ground between the two sides, and since both sides can agree that they would like to see fewer abortions being performed, let's talk about ways we can work together to accomplish that goal. And let's talk about it in a civil tone and without all the nastiness and vitriol.

PREACHER: Talking about abortion in a civil tone without all of the nastiness and vitriol is a good place to start. But, I am not satisfied with just stopping there. I would like to have tax supported agencies such as Planned Parenthood change some of their policies and educational material. They seem to be saying that abortion can be the lesser of two evils. I don't agree. I have a lot of acquaintances who have had an abortion (I don't bug them about it) for simply personal convenience. Some extreme pro-lifers have done wrong, but I certainly can't call pro-choice folks lily-white when they condone what I call violence. Each year in the USA alone, over 4000 individuals will have the heads squished with forceps, limbs decapitated, remains vacuumed out, or injected with poison that causes the womb to eject them etc. Then they are thrown out in the garbage. Doesn't a rose by any other name smell the same?

Even those of us who are moral absolutists are influenced, in a negative sense, by moral relativism. We all, without any clear guide for moral authority recognized in our society, end up doing what is just right in our own eyes. And, that is tragic whether you are a conservative or a liberal.

SKEPTIC: How do you know your acquaintances had abortions for "simply personal convenience?" Did they sit down and confide in you the all the reasons that factored into their decision? I kind of doubt that they told you, "Oh, it was just the convenient thing for me to do," and when you accuse them of just doing it for personal convenience, I think you trivialize and demean the undoubtedly painful suffering that they experienced in their struggle to make that choice.

Late-term abortion, the procedure that was done by Dr. Tiller, was almost always done not for convenience, but for reasons of the health of the mother or the fetus. The women were usually women who wanted to have a baby, but something went tragically wrong.

The problem with the moral absolutist is that he is convinced that only he has the truth, and everyone else must agree with him. Well, the world doesn't work that way.

PREACHER: And, the problem with moral relativists is that they think that their venerable opinion is almost always correct, and they especially get fussy when moral absolutists don't agree with them. That in turn incites emotional moral absolutist to say and sometimes do unkind things. After all, since moral relativists consider themselves more enlightened than moral absolutists, shouldn't they be setting an example of what it means to be level headed and rational?

For the record about the women who had abortion for personal convenience: One was a high school classmate, who messed up with her boyfriend. We all knew that she was pregnant, since it showed. And, she announced to some of us that she was having an abortion. Expressing some regret for the child in her womb, she justified the procedure on account that having the child would mess up her educational plans. Another I remember is the wife of a doctor friend. She already had three kids, and was hoping to put the last one into nursery school soon and continue in her career of dentistry. The fourth child would have messed up her educational/career plans. So, she had an abortion. I don't particularly hate these two, but in my mind their personal convenience was more important to them than the life that was developing in their wombs.

We shouldn't be to hard on Dr. Tiller. He was only doing what he believed was right and he helped some women who were in very bad predicaments. However, I have trouble believing that all of the thousands of abortions that he performed that all of them were problem pregnancies. Of course Scott Roeder was doing what he thought was right, too. In a morally relative world, ones opinion is the final authority and one does what is right in his own eyes. I would rather have had Dr. Tiller as my neighbor than Scott. He was more predictable.

If we cut out all the hype and whitewashing, get good objective information to those who are considering whether or not to get an abortion, and provide help for those who would prefer to go ahead and give birth to their child, we may be really able to cut down on the number of abortions.