Saturday, June 07, 2008

Hillary's Checkers Speech

Hillary Clinton gave the gracious, positive, upbuilding endorsement speech today that was needed to help heal the Democratic Party.

This speech, like Nixon's "Checkers" speech, will also save her place as a valued leader in the future of the party and the government.

Whatever Obama and Clinton talked about at Senator Feinstein's house, it worked.


Let's build.

Friday, June 06, 2008

McCain, Clinton, Obama: Three Forms of Authority

Laurie Fendrich, a Hofstra art professor, has blogged for the Chronicle of Higher Education about the three main presidential candidates of the moment representing Max Weber's three forms of legitimate authority. As a sociologist, I am obliged to work Max Weber into all conversations, and am glad for this opening.

Weber argued that for most of human history, the main form of legitimate authority in society has been tradition -- that is, the fact that "our ancestors did it" and "we have always done it this way" was the best reason to act one way rather than another. He noted, though, that the main achievement of the political economy of modern societies was to develop a quite different theory of legitimate authority, the rational/legal. Society was supposed to act upon laws that applied to all, which were created by a rational process of elections and executed by a rationally administered bureaucracy. The other kind of authority is the wild card of the charismatic leader. Weber thought a charismatic leader, or prophet, was the main way traditional societies changed; Weber also thought that the periodic appearance of a charismatic leader could save modern rational societies from stultifying into an iron cage of bureaucracy.

Fendrich, and her colleague sociologist Mark Landis, saw the three candidates as representing the three types of authority:
McCain represent tradition;
Clinton represents rational bureaucracy;
Obama represents charisma.

The impending McCain/Obama race will represent a straight competition between tradition and charisma.

I think there is something to this idea. Obama is clearly charismatic, and McCain is clearly the most past-oriented of the three. And Clinton's strength has, more or less, been in her mastery of the machinery of government execution.

Still, Weber himself argued that the United States was born a rational/legal country, without an established traditional authority. All serious American politicians are vying to lead a rational, bureaucratic legal machinery. This is the foundation of the great stability of American government.

That said, I can see the value in seeing the upcoming election as a contest between two rational, legal, bureaucracy-respecting Senators. One wants to lead by continuing the (recent) traditions of his party; the other by transcending the recent divisions of the parties by using his personal charisma to inspire others to act in untraditional ways.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

French Annul Fake Virgin's Marriage, Then Regret It.

A French judge annulled a marriage because the bride lied about being a virgin. The annulment happened two months ago. When the story recently came out in a legal journal, the French Justice Minister shrugged it off. No big deal. This is to be expected if marriage is just a private contract. One party lies in a contract, the court can abrogate the agreement.

And then the details came out. The bride and groom are Muslims. The wedding reception was still going on in the immigrant neighborhood when the groom came back downstairs to announce that the bride had not bloodied the sheets.

The hue and cry has been enormous. The Justice Minister, herself the daughter of North African immigrants, was forced to reverse her initial reaction and appeal the annulment.

The French, like many Western Europeans, want marriage to be a private choice if the couple uses secular and middle class standards of who can be involved, of what sexes, for how long, perhaps how many to include. On the other hand, they want marriage to be publicly regulated if the couple uses religious or working class standards of what makes a proper marriage.

Marriage became a public institution when the church and the state regulated and celebrated the couple's vow to one another, their children, their community, and, for the vast majority of people on earth, to God. Marriage became a public institution to protect the vulnerable -- usually the woman, often the poor, always the children. It is a great civilizational step forward that marriage is a public institution. Society rediscovers this when the state is asked to back a private marriage contract that undermines that protection.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

President Obama Will Make Black Republicans Possible

In 1964, E. Digby Baltzell saw that
Kennedy’s victory in 1960 will, in the long run, serve to bring many affluent and capable Catholic leaders in this country into the conservative ranks of the Republican establishment. (The Protestant Establishment, p. 315)

Baltzell saw that once the caste exclusions of Catholics were broken, they would be free to sort into their natural class affiliations. Richer people, other things equal, tend to become Republicans. Events have proven Baltzell right, and today Catholics tend to sort along class lines when they vote. There is no "Catholic vote."

Today there is a "black vote." African Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. In fact, African Americans are more reliable Democratic voters than registered Democrats are. The vast majority of black elected officials are Democrats. Rich African Americans - including billionaire Oprah Winfrey - are strong Democrats.

I believe that the 2008 presidential election will resemble the 1960 election in many ways. Many people have drawn the parallel between Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy, not least the members of the Kennedy family. I think the election will be a squeaker either way, and I am not predicting an Obama victory.

I think the parallel can be drawn in the way Baltzell suggests:
An Obama victory in 2008 would, in the long run, serve to bring many affluent and capable black leaders in this country into the conservative ranks of the Republican establishment.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Baltzell's Vision of the Ethnically Mixed Establishment

E. Digby Baltzell, in The Protestant Establishment (1964), gives this rare personal clue to the origin of his vision of an aristocratic establishment:

In fact, I visualized the possibility of an ethnically mixed establishment, which underlies the theory of American leadership developed in this book, during my own experiences in the ward rooms and officers clubs of the South Pacific. At any rate, the American ideal of equality of opportunity in a hierarchically organized social structure had never been so nearly realized as in the selection of reserve officers who led our armed forces during the Second World War. (301)

He goes on to say that he thinks John F. Kennedy forged an ethnically mixed "best and the brightest" administration out of his experiences in the war, as well as his life in Boston. He was an outsider as an Irish Catholic, but he was also an aristocratic insider as a rich man's son, a famous mayor's grandson, a Choate and Harvard man. The New Frontier does not seem so daringly mixed to us today -- they look like privileged white men. But at the time the pulling together on terms of equality by Northern WASPs, Southern Protestants, Catholics, and Jews from all corners of Europe was a great achievement.

It falls to today's rising generation to make the honey-colored establishment drawn from all races and corners of the earth a reality.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

What Presbyterian Bishops Do

Presbyterians do not, of course, have bishops. We are very decidedly non-episcopal. The presbytery is an ingenious republican arrangement to accomplish most of the functions of a bishop, without the authoritarian dangers.

However, there are a few things that bishops do, when they are functioning well, that presbyteries cannot accomplish. A good bishop knows the people in the diocese and has a personal relationship with at least the leaders of the congregations. The presbytery is not well-designed for the person-to-person actions of bishops.

A presbytery, as a republican organization, always needs to be finding the right person for the next job. This is especially important in getting the right mix of pastors and elders to staff the crucial committees and oversee the vital ministries of the presbytery. What a presbytery needs is someone in a position to have a wide range of contacts over the several congregations of the body.

The Presbyterian bishop needs to be chief talent-spotter.

Since the presbytery needs someone to accomplish this function, we keep growing some kind of talent spotting system. This is often jury-rigged and haphazard, depending on the personal contacts of the chair of the nominating committee as much as anything else.

I believe presbyteries should be smaller and more organically connected than they now are. This would go a long way to bringing the people doing the calling in touch with the people who should be called.

At the same time, I think a modest Executive Presbyter role is a useful one to the presbytery. Small presbyteries may not be able to afford full time executives. In that case, I think right-sized presbyteries trump the need for a dedicated executive. Even a small presbytery, though, should be able to afford part of someone's time -- perhaps the pastor of a smaller church, or a mostly retired person, or someone with a well-employed spouse -- to be the connector.

Perhaps what we need is not a Presbytery Executive, but a Presbytery Maven. Or Presbytery Magpie.