Sunday, October 21, 2012

Romney's Magic Underwear Will Be Gone Forever

President Obama has spent a lot of time lately pointing out that Mitt Romney has changed his position various times on various issues, and this week began using the term "Romnesia" to describe his Republican opponent's proclivity for prevarication.

Conventional wisdom is that in the first presidential debate Obama failed to point out the instances in which Romney introduced new, more moderate policy positions and is now making up for it. But it might be that Obama is trying to remind the Republican Evangelical Protestant Christian base, who have always been cool toward Romney, of why they were cool toward him in the first place, because it was when this base got all titillated and fired up by what has been described as Romney's alpha male performance in the first debate that Obama's lead in the polls began to diminish. In other words, the president is practicing a kind of voter suppression.

It's a perfectly legal and ethical kind, unlike the Republican kind, which has included wholesale purging of voter rolls and putting up legal barriers to voting, all of which has been for the purpose of suppressing the vote of Democratic leaning constituencies.

The Republican have resorted to cheating because they have a serious demographic problem. The US population is changing in ways that favor Democrats, and some of the more surprising ways are described in a new study by the Pew Foundation that finds that a record number of Americans, 20 percent, don't identify with any particular religion.

The study also finds that those who identify as Protestant are for the first time a minority of Americans, at 48 percent of the population, the rest being Catholic or some other faith, or the 20 percent who say they are unaffiliated, which includes a record 13 million atheists. These trends are not good for Republicans, who have come to rely on their Protestant Christian base for votes. They are good news for anyone who is sick of seeing right wing religion become a large part of the Republican agenda.

Although the rise of the Hispanic population in the US is the Republicans' main demographic problem, it also helps explain why Protestants are in decline in the US, as Hispanic immigrants tend to identify as Catholic.

Republicans also have a problem in that those who don't identify with an organized religion are mainly younger people, who tend to vote Democratic. This represents a simple and straightforward demographic shift, as younger people replace older more traditionally religious people, but it begs the question of why Republicans are spending their time suppressing the votes of poor folks, Black folks and Hispanic folks and aren't trying to keep young people from voting.

That might be because it's traditionally been more socially acceptable in White Protestant dominated America to discriminate against the poor, the Black and the Hispanic. It's just easier to get away with.

It might be that Republicans are already trying to suppress the vote of young people but we haven't yet put our finger on it. There's a broad and deep strain in the critique of Capitalism about how it uses things like the media and the culture of consumerism as social control, of how those with the power and money consciously (and I'd say moreso unconsciously) use it to direct the masses into forms of thought and behavior that won't threaten their control and their perks and privileges.

The Magic Underwear Factor

I say, above, that Republicans cheat because they have a demographic problem. To be more precise, Republicans cheat because it's in their nature. Recall that Martin Luther started the Protestant offshoot of Christianity to satisfy a demand, the lust by the German nobility to steal land, first land held by the Catholic Church, which at the time owned about half of Europe, and later land held in common by the peasantry, land known as "The Commons," where people were free to graze their livestock and forage for food, and gather firewood, their only source of fuel for cooking and heating.

In the early 1500s, when Luther came along, Capitalism was in formation. The innovations in technology and transportation that would make Capitalism's rise possible had begun to appear and the political stability that allowed commercial trade to replace barter was taking shape. But the enclosure of the commons, the term used to describe the privatization of that land, i.e., it's seizure by the nobility, it's theft, was the prime necessary precondition for the formation of Capitalism. That land is what made up the original capital, and the dispossession and poverty its theft caused created the large pool of cheap labor Capitalism needed to be profitable.

Before Luther founded Protestantism and came up with its central doctrine, that you are excused for your earthly sins because Jesus Christ has already paid for them with his death, the Catholic Church prevented the nobility from excessive abuse of its power. It was universally believed that the only way to heaven was through the Catholic Church, and the church used that belief to impose a measure of fairness on the nobility. But Luther came along and said to the nobility, "I, Martin Luther, can get you into heaven. You don't need no Catholic Church."

Luther was kicked out of the church and would have stood trial for heresy but he was given protection by the nobility, who also gave him the resources he needed to start his new religion. And as soon as Luther got Protestantism started, the right wing wackos began to appear, like John Calvin, who told the rich that their expropriated wealth was simply proof that they were blessed by God -- a belief held by Republican Christianity today -- which replaces the Biblical suspicion of, and Jesus' explicit condemnation of, wealth accumulation, and the Catholic Church's requirements for charity.

So the link between Protestantism and Capitalism goes back to the beginning, and conservative Protestants still today identify closely with the Capitalist ruling class and believe that power should rest in the hands of corporations instead of with the people or with the people through government.  

(Note: I was raised a Protestant, although in a Liberal Democratic context.)

Out Of The Darkness

New Mexico's pundit, Jim Baca, recently linked to this picture on his web log

Baca comments that "At the end you could substitute Romney's magic underwear."

Jim Baca has a wonderful and unique sense of humor. I got a laugh out of that, but it also made me aware that I'm more pessimistic that I used to be. I like the thought that talking snake stories will disappear, but I don't know if they will.

It's probably true that advances in science and the spread of education to the masses have contributed to the decline in the popularity of organized religion. But it's also true that religion exists because of the nature of human nature. Religion provides certainty. It supplies definite answers to questions like "Where did we come from?" It makes it easier to understand some things about life and the universe. We, or someone else, might eventually answer all those questions definitively, but religion also helps us grapple with the fear of death, and cope with the ultimate demise of our ego.

Religion has risen and fallen before. Republican Christianity, a distaste for which has contributed to religion's current decline, according to the Pew study, might go away, or it might be replaced by a nicer religion. Economic factors might pave the way for another religious upsurge.

Perhaps when we go away and someone else takes our place there won't be any religion, but maybe the stories they concoct will be more outlandish than ours.


Jim Baca, who comments on religion from time to time, today, on reflecting on the film Argo, had some interesting and insightful comments about the similarities between Muslim and Christian fundamentalists.

These articles about the Pew Research study bring out different aspects of its findings.

Agence France Press (AFP, via Raw Story)

Washington Post

Jezebel (the increasingly popular blog from Gawker Media)

Huffington Post


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