Last week I told you about the drama in the Texas speaker's race, where conservative Christian activists have been accused of anti-Semitism for suggesting that incumbent (and Jewish) speaker Joe Straus is not sufficiently Christian. The catch is that this kind of attack is hardly unique to Straus. Here's a new poll from the Christian firm Lifeway Research, which illustrates that pretty well.
Lifeway surveyed 1,000 protestant pastors—liberal and conservative, evangelical and mainline—about the religious views of a handful of well-known politicians and celebrities. The good news is most of the pastors (a supermajority, even!) think Sarah Palin is a Christian. On the other hand, 33 percent of them don't. Obama checks in at 41 percent. And Glenn Beck? Just 27 percent, largely on account of his Mormon faith. That's better than Oprah (19 percent), but not what you might expect from the man who's built a movement (and a bank account) preaching the Christian influenceof the Founders.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I'd add that "Protestant pastors" is a fairly specific cohort; actually, it sounds dangerously close to a Mark Penn Microtrends demographic ("station-wagon seminarians," perhaps?). And Lifeway doesn't really get into the details, except to note that liberals are more likely to say everyone's a Christian, and conservatives are more likely to say no one is. But you can see the larger point: Being a "Christian," and being identified as such by others is not mutually inclusive. Politics only magnifies that.
Although Oklahoma's law is the first to come under court scrutiny, legislators in at least seven states, including Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, have proposed similar laws, the National Conference of State Legislatures says.
"It's not an issue in Utah," [state rep. Carl Wimmer] says, "but I wanted to make sure it doesn't become an issue in Utah."
Well, that settles it, then.
In an interesting twist, Wimmer (top left) was ultimately forced to withdraw his bill when he discovered that it would have posed significant barriers to Utah companies conducting business overseas. But he's managed to stay busy in the interim, introducing legislation to nullify the Affordable Care Act, criminalize miscarriages, and make the Browning 1911 Utah's state gun.
It's been an inspired couple of months for Texas conservatives. Gov. Rick Perry launched his national book tour by asserting his right to secede from Social Security; a state representative introduced a bill demanding that President Obama release his birth certificate; another state rep squatted in the capitol for two days and two nights to introduce immigration reform. Oh, and this photo happened. And now, after a historic landslide at the polls last month, Republican activists have taken aim at one of their own: House speaker Joe Straus. Straus is a moderate. He's also Jewish. Maybe you can see where this is headed.
Here's what John Cook, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, told the Texas Observer:
"I want to make sure that a person I'm supporting is going to have my values. It's not anything about Jews and whether I think their religion is right or Muslims and whether I think their religion is right...I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office. They're the people that do the best jobs over all..."
Cook said his opposition was not about Straus' religion, although he prefers Christian candidates.
"They're some of my best friends," he said of Jews, naming two friends of his. "I'm not bigoted at all; I'm not racist."
Cook's something of a loon, as evidenced by his fantastically oblivious "some of my best friends" defense. But all of the cries of anti-Semitism do sort of seem to be glossing over one very obvious thing: Conservative Christian political activists generally think that being a conservative Christian makes you better qualified to hold public office. That's sort of the point.
To be clear, there's pretty compelling evidence that at least some of Straus' opponents have focused on his Judaism. But if he were a social-justice Catholic, or a moderate main-liner, or a progressive evangelical, he would still face a pretty intense push from conservative activists arguing that he is not a true Christian, or at least not a true conservative Christian. This has been a theme in just about every major contested election for the last few decades, and it's a sentiment that's well entrenched in the conservative movement. That he is literally not a Christian in this case is just a technicality.
Looking for the perfect holiday decoration to one-up that neighbor who synced his Christmas lights to Slayer? How about a statuette of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for your nativity scene. Seriously. Inspired by the silver-haired Australian's online escapades, a Naples creche creator has crafted an Assange figurine (holding a laptop, naturally) to go along with the more traditional Mary, Joseph, and Jesus ensemble. It's a Christmas miracle.
"I included him to poke a little fun at the world and have a good time," said Di Virgilio, 29, whose family has been making nativity statuettes and ornate creches since 1830. "In a sense, Assange is the man of the year," said Di Virgilio
There is only one copy of the Assange statuette, which costs 130 euros. Di Virgilio says he will make others on request. There are, however, multiple copies of statuettes of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that Italians can place in the manger with the Holy Family, the wise men, the ox and the sheep.
MoJo's profile of Assange last June suggested that he brings only a rucksack when he travels, so perhaps the laptop is a little ambitious.
The prospect of Assange attending the Nativity did make us wonder, though: What would a leaked State Department cable of the big event look like? After all, if this is how they report on a wedding in Dagestan, one can only imagine how the Roman ambassador might react to the birth of the Lord and one true savior:
SUBJECT: A BABY SHOWER IN BETHLEHEM
ROME 00000241200 001 OUT OF 001
On December 24th, attended an impromptu summit in Bethlehem, a midsized city under the control of King Herod. Herod projects a public image as a family man, although there have been reports he murdered no fewer than two of his children, and at least one wife. Opposition members have argued that Herod may suffer from fits of acute paranoia, citing his controversial proposal to summarily kill every first-born son in his kingdom. Analysts say the measure, if enacted, could lead to economic contraction in the near future, as the kingdom reacts to a dwindling labor supply and a suddenly aging populace.
As the newborn lay in the traditional oaken manger, the welcoming commitee, which included a cow, two sheep, one camel, and a quartet of cherubs, were seen to be looking on with unusual interest bordering on reverence. The adoration of the cherubs, however, did little to dispel whispered rumors about the identity of the child's biological father [redacted]. Visiting dignitaries arrived conspicuously late, lavishing gifts such as [redacted], [redacted], and [redacted] that seemed more appropriate for a deity than a first-time mother.
And MoJo copy editor, and resident WikiLeak guru, Adam Weinstein takes his stab below the jump.
In 2004, Steve Dublanica started Waiter Rant, an anonymous blog that charted his vexations waiting tables at an upscale bistro in the New York City 'burbs. Four years later, Dublanica emerged from the blogosphere with a bestselling memoir of clueless patrons and coke-snorting kitchen staff. One of the hardest parts of being a waiter, he told Oprah, was attempting to master the calculus of good and bad tipping.
In Keep the Change, Dublanica sets forth on a dizzying quest to understand the mental math and morality of gratuities. Half travelogue, half manifesto, the book recounts his misadventures in tipping as he travels across America talking with a cross-section of the 3 percent of the workforce that relies on tips. He shadows doormen and parking valets, tries to make tip-jar-worthy espresso with Portland baristas, and interviews Vegas strippers between lap dances—all to "figure out how to tip with a clear and informed conscience."
Dublanica's advice: When in doubt, tip and tip well. Give baristas more than your change; 50 cents is "amazing," says a manager at Starbucks (which forbids employees from labeling their tip jars as such). Give your dog groomer 20 percent. Give altar boys at your wedding 10 to 15 bucks each. Give car-wash attendants three to five dollars directly, since supervisors sometimes steal their tips. One comes away from Keep the Change with a sheepish sense of having unknowingly stiffed many whose survival depends upon the kindness of customers.—Zoë Slutzky
This Studs Terkel-style oral history sets out to rebrand the US Border Patrol as more than just a political prop for the anti-immigration crowd. Through interviews with active and retired agents at a post in Arizona's scorching Sonoran Desert, the authors (one a former agent) cast the force not just as enforcers but humanitarians. One retired officer recalls holding impromptu funerals in the desert for migrants who didn't make it. The men in green, as the authors put it, "are the people you'd pray were on your trail and on their way." In spite of its one-sided view, Desert Duty brings to life a perspective on the border debate you rarely hear about.—Tim Murphy
In 1987, when Deb Olin Unferth was 18, she followed her charismatic boyfriend George to Nicaragua to "foment the revolution." This proved more difficult than they'd anticipated: The couple spent less time overthrowing an oppressive regime than fighting with each other, trudging through squalid streets, and getting robbed. This clearheaded and funny memoir captures the grit and chaos of a tumultuous moment in Central American history, but it's really a coming-of-age story. "It was the first time I dried clothes on a line, interviewed a politician, the first time I searched for food, the right road, the right bus," writes Unferth, who's now a novelist. She didn't become a revolutionary, but she did become a grown-up.—Kiera Butler
Dog, Inc. explores the curious history of pet cloning, from its roots in a 1928 experiment in which a German biologist replicated a salamander, to the present, when scientists are only too willing to help doting dog-owners reanimate their canine companions. After describing a range of pet-related experiments, from Snuppy the cloned puppy to fluorescent beagles and freeze-dried cats, Woestendiek wonders: Should we do something just because it's possible? At the heart of his narrative are the pet owners who refuse to accept that the clones bounding into their arms are only physical replicas of their departed mutts. As one remarks, "I can't wait until Booger 2 is born. I'm having to sell my home to pay for it, but that's OK, because I'll have my friend back."—Maddie Oatman