Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 15, 2013

The Teapublican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address was typical – a futile effort to go back to the future. But this time, with the unlikely team of Rubio and Paul there seems to be an effort to revive comedy teams. Meanwhile New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it right by effectively decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. It is the right step of a journey of many more miles. And finally, with the announced resignation of Pope Benedict Catholics and many others are hoping that the new pope will begin his reign by confronting the reality of the Catholic Church in the 21st century.

Slapstick and Punch Lines

Amazingly the leadership of the Teapublican Party thought that it would be a great idea to put Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul on national television to rebut President Obama’s State of the Union address. It wasn’t a fair fight.

Barack Obama may be one of the great communicators of all time, and when he is on his rhetorical game it is hard to say who is in second place. Last Tuesday he was on his game and with applause echoing through the Capitol Senators Rubio and Paul were asked to counter an awesome performance. They both failed – miserably.

Marco Rubio looked like the loser of a high school student council presidential debate to seem like the adult that he was not, reciting talking points that seem to come from the Young Americans for Freedom playbook of fifty years ago. And then he made this magical transition from Teapublican Savior to Water Boy as he virtually ducked off the stage to get some water in the middle of his presentation.

Rand Paul looked like someone who had just climbed out of a laundry hamper and sounded like someone who didn’t think that anyone was listening. His right wing of the right wing soliloquy repeated themes that were soundly rejected by the majority of American voters but he did his best voice in the wilderness imitation.

During the heyday of old time comedy there were comedic teams like the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis, to name a few. We can now add Rubio and Paul to the All Star Clown List.

A Journey of a Thousand Miles…..

New York City Michael Bloomberg announced this week that possession of small amounts of marijuana would no longer result in arrest or being put on an individual’s criminal record. The impact of this directive will mean that hundreds of thousands of mostly young black and Latino men will not have to go to jail for an “offense” that simply doesn’t exist in Colorado and is rarely enforced in suburbs of a different hue. This will also mean that fewer of these young men will be marginalized in the workforce because of a petty criminal record.

That is a great step in the right direction. The next step would be to retroactively eliminate such arrests from the criminal record of the hundreds of thousands of victims of this egregious policy. And the next step after that? That would be to totally eliminate the outrageous “Stop and Frisk” policy which torments hundreds of thousands of young men of color in New York City every year.

The New Pope’s Challenge

The announced resignation of Pope Benedict touched off a flurry of commentaries about his eight year reign and what he should or should not have done while serving as pope. Certainly historians will have plenty to discuss.

It is also important for the next pope to finally and decisively confront the five thousand pound gorilla in the Catholic living room. Unless and until every aspect of the global child abuse scandal (which is most certainly over a century old) is exposed and addressed many people of the faith and outside the faith will view the Catholic Church with suspicion.

It has not only been the horrific tales of continual abuse all over the world that has shocked and dismayed, it has been the institutional cover up of the crimes and the criminals. The steadfast refusal of the leaders of the Catholic Church to fully address not only the criminals but also the enablers who have masked this institutional disgrace is unbecoming of a religious institution with over a billion believers.

We can only hope that the new pope will see that now is the time to right the wrongs by confronting them.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

When You are Living in a Glass House

At the end of last week, after lengthy and sometimes rancorous debate the New York State Legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and that bill was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo immediately thereafter. New York is the largest and most populous state to have legalized same-sex marriage, a point that is useful to keep in mind since a number of states have proposed to outlaw or have already prohibited such unions.

Leading the charge against same-sex marriage has been the Catholic Church. Not content with prohibiting Catholics from entering into same-sex marriages, the leaders, cardinals, bishops and priests have proclaimed that their view of morality and the will of God are so divinely inspired that they have the right to impose that view on non-Catholics as well.

Freedom of speech and freedom of religion certainly empowers these prelates to state their point of view. But if what underlies their speech is the right to deny freedom to others, all freedoms are devalued. After all, there was a time when Roman emperors viewed all Christians as enemies of the state and put them to death for their beliefs. How odd it is that 2000 years later Catholics pronounce political death sentences on politicians that do not support their point of view.

As a practicing Catholic I certainly would feel less queasy about the political activism of the Catholic Church if the now vocal leaders haven’t been oh so silent on the issue of child abuse by Catholic priests. The vehement statements of outrage against same-sex marriage dwarf any statements of dismay, disgust or apology by the Catholic Church when it comes to the abuse of children by priests.

Entire parishes and archdioceses have been bankrupted by the damages awarded to the victims of the Catholic Church. Yet the acknowledgements of guilt and complicity have been tepid when compared to the bellicose roar of the church hierarchy in denying the legitimacy of expressions of love that do not comport with their moral universe.

And the Catholic Church is not the only glass house resident that should be very wary of stones in the neighborhood. Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, the new “It” girl of the G.O.Tea Party has proclaimed that as president she would lead the battle to have a constitutional amendment outlawing same sex marriage throughout the entire United States.

To my recollection, this is the same Michelle Bachmann who has ranted against the intrusion of government into the private lives of Americans. This would be the same Michelle Bachmann who is leading the mock battle against the mock demon called “big government”.

Personally, I cannot think of a greater intrusion into the private lives of Americans than for government to dictate who can marry whom and what relationship is valid and valued and what relationship is invalid and devalued. Visions of “big government” and Big Brother come to mind as we watch the borders between church and state being smeared and obliterated by those who would presume to place their moral standards above those of others.

Since Michelle Bachmann went to law school one could reasonably expect that she would shy away from the apparent contradiction of wishing to reduce the intrusion of government in the lives of Americans on one hand while wielding the Thor-like hammer of the Constitution of the United States to smash the rights of privacy and the freedoms of love and association that Americans supposedly enjoy. The constitutional and legal glass house in which she resides cannot possibly stand up the stones of hypocrisy that she is casting with her own hand.

The point is not the obduracy of the Catholic Church or the mindless and pathetic hypocrisy of Michelle Bachmann. The point actually goes beyond the current debate regarding same-sex marriage and civil unions.

I would suggest that we are witnessing the renaissance of a time best left forgotten when imposing moral standards and views on life were accomplished with threats and violence. Ostensibly, the clearly wobbly beliefs of the framers of the Constitution were tested by issues like slavery and suffrage for women. But the sound concepts of freedom and the rights of individuals bound by a union focused on the common good are worth remembering and citing.

Those sound concepts are being remixed and spun in ways that are taking us back into a time of intolerance and injustice. It is time to remember that in such matters it can get late early.

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