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Posts Tagged ‘Controversies’

Pope Francis has been making waves even after his first few months as leader of the Catholic Church — as much for what he is saying as what he is doing; while some critics point out that there’s nothing “technically” revolutionary about his statements, the cardinal rule of rhetoric has never applied with more force: It’s not what you say, but how you say it. Indeed, a large percentage of the reaction to Francis has had to do with the nonverbal aspects of his rhetoric.

Item 1: Coming down off the pedestal. Francis has made a habit of mingling with the common people, to the chagrin of his security detail (and Brazilian traffic cops).

Item 2: The popemobile. First he rode the bus to work. Then got rid of the bulletproof glass on the Benz. Then he started driving a Ford Focus. Deciding even that was too snazzy, he recently accepted (as a gift) a 1984 Renault with 186,000 miles on it.

Item 3: The chair. Compare Benedict’s throne to Francis’s seat of choice.

Pope Thrones

To be sure, it’s also about what he’s said, including his first appearance before the faithful, where he pretty much said “Hi folks, here I am!” And then all of the comments about how the Church needs to stop “obsessing” over homosexuality, abortion, and birth control. He even seemed to say that he’s OK with atheists. His wide-ranging interview with the Jesuit magazine America triggered raised eyebrows as well.  (Needless to say, this caught Bill Maher’s attention…)

Some observers have suggested that Francis’s words (and actions) could even have implications for American politics — threatening to peel off typically conservative Catholics from the rest of the (increasingly extreme) religious right.

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bill_hillary_rectMy review, published yesterday in the Greensboro News & Record, of William Chafe’s joint biography of Bill and Hillary Clinton. A solid piece of work with some provocative analysis of the personal and public lives of these two remarkable partners in power.

And yes, that’s the Clintons. (Great hair, Bill!) Chafe’s book has no photo section, so I dug around to find this one, used in the Salon article by Chafe about the various stories concerning the Clintons’ first meeting, at Yale in 1970.

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McCrory-nc-flagMy op-ed today, written along with Scot Faulkner, on the controversial comments from North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory about liberal arts education — and how McCrory seems to be just one more conservative shouting into the know-nothing conservative echo chamber. Plenty of folks have commented on this, including many friends and colleagues in academia. Our take is a bit different: That McCrory is actually betraying conservative principles. But then again, as Scot and I have been writing over the past weeks, there’s not much left of the conservative movement.

Today, McCrory’s trying to walk back his statements but refuses to acknowledge what he actually said.

Article first published in the Raleigh News & Observer on January 31, 2013.

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The latest incident of a politician calling a rhetorical gaffe a simple case of “I misspoke” is Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, whose comments about “legitimate rape” have erupted into a national firestorm.

I’ve never quite understand what it means to “misspeak”; the term reminds me a bit of Richard Nixon’s press secretary declaring certain presidential statements “inoperative.” Huh? As Time magazine headlined ironically a t the time, “they misspoke themselves.” Whatever that means.

Akin certainly “misspoke himself.” Setting aside the moral debate, the rhetorical one is pretty clear: Saying there are “legitimate” rapes necessarily suggests there are “illegitimate ones.”

And in his apology he ignored this central matter, instead saying he “used the wrong words in the wrong way.” There is, in fact, nothing confusing about his original statement. As everyone from Mitt Romney to Rush Limbaugh has now said, it was just ignorant (or worse).

As the Democrats scurry to tie Akin to the presidential ticket, their clearest path seems to lead to Paul Ryan, who cosponsored abortion related legislation with Akin. And, once again, odd rhetorical formulations are the key. The Ryan “personhood” legislation included restrictions on abortions in cases of rape, creating a new legal category: “forcible” rape. I didn’t realize there was any other kind; as with Akin’s “legitimate” comments, the recognition–in an explicit legal context–of “forcible” rapes necessarily means there is a category of “unforcible” rapes.

Wouldn’t it not then be a rape? Ultimately voters will have to decide what’s going on here. Be prepared for some highly charged rhetorical assaults. And more misspeaking.

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On the same day last week that we learned about an Arizona high school baseball quitting a championship game because there was a woman on the opposing team, President Obama delivered a commencement address to the graduating class at Columbia’s Barnard College that could have served as a pep talk to the walk-off team. Make no mistake: This is part of a theme that’s shaping up around social issues including women’s and minority rights.

“After decades of slow, steady, extraordinary progress, you are now poised to make this the century where women shape not only their own destiny but the destiny of this nation,” Obama told the graduating class. “Never underestimate the power of your example.”

Paige Sulzbach, Second Base, Mesa Prep, is one of those examples. As it happens, my sister was one of those examples too — the first woman to play on her high school baseball team. (That’s her on the left, in the photo below.) She told me she wouldn’t have done anything differently than Paige. “She proved herself a competitor, the same as any other,” my sister said, reiterating homage for the game she still calls “chess on grass,” our national pastime.

It’s unfortunate when examples are met with prejudice. But the chess metaphor also applies to politics.

The President should reach out to Sulzbach, as he reached out to Sandra Fluke, the woman recently berated for speaking out about reproductive rights. The contexts are different but the impact is the same. Radical conservatives stand in the path of social equality. The President spoke out against bigotry last week regarding marriage and sexual orientation; he spoke out last Monday against sexism in general.  He spoke to the progress of equality over past decades and also under his presidential watch: Just as a woman should be paid equally for their work, she should be able to qualify for fielding second base. On the boy’s team. If she chooses.

It doesn’t matter if  you feel the GOP’s efforts amount to a “war” in their initiatives on contraception, Planned Parenthood, or responses to extremist talkers like Rush Limbaugh, who called Ms. Fluke a “slut” for suggesting a woman’s had the right to control her own body. What matters is that some of us still don’t look at each other equally. Men can only imagine what women who choose to play on the boys’ team get called. I’m sure my sister caught some of it.

“Paige and her teammates have all had a valuable experience that will serve them well both on and off the field and for years to come,” my sister said. It would serve us all well.

“Until a girl can…picture herself as a computer programmer, or a combatant commander, she won’t become one,” the President said Monday. Add playing baseball to that list. “Persevere,” the President advised the graduates.

Let’s hope the team that walked off the field in Arizona will also try to persevere, overcome their biases. It would make us all a stronger team.

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The outbursts of malignant misogynist rhetoric from Rush Limbaugh, aimed at the Georgetown 3L woman who testified before Congress on women’s health issues have truly moved beyond the pale. Read my thoughts here on POLITICO.

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Here’s a link to the podcast of my interview discussing the GOP candidates with John Barron of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, whose “Inside America” program provides a different perspective on American news.

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