Backtalk

We received letters from the Christian right, left, and middle in response to “Race to the Right,” Ann Monroe’s story on the Christian Coalition’s efforts to reach out to black communities, while the Mother Jones 400 elicited a unanimous call for “clean money” campaign finance reform. Plus: senatorial stocks; an ode to olestra; the pros and cons of Prozac.

RACE & RECONCILIATION

Since Ann Monroe’s story (“Race to the Right,” May/June) ran, Ralph Reed, whom I know and respect, has resigned. I hope the Samaritan Project he launched to help inner cities will nonetheless realize its promise.

Whether one’s politics fall closer to Earl Jackson’s or Jesse Jackson’s, all people of good faith know that government, business, and the nonprofit sector must get morally serious about urban minority children growing up without consistent adult care, without meaningful job prospects, and often without hope. Rather than question motives and speculate about political outcomes (personally, I think it highly unlikely that the Christian Coalition will make significant electoral inroads among urban blacks, period), we would all do better to focus our energies on how to leverage public and private resources into the faith-based and other local institutions that have a good track record in reaching out to disadvantaged inner-city youth.

No academic has been a stronger advocate of incarcerating street criminals than I. But I am even more convinced that prevention trumps incarceration, and that our guiding principle should be “build churches, not jails.” Most of the kids of every race who are getting into trouble with the law are both sinners and sinned against. We need programs that respect this complicated social and moral reality. As the Bible says, ye shall know them by their works. Politics and ideology be damned.

JOHN J. DIIULIO JR., DIRECTOR
PARTNERSHIP FOR RESEARCH ON RELIGION AND
AT-RISK YOUTH
PHILADELPHIA, PA.


Don Argue of the National Association of Evangelicals was undoubtedly sincere when he fell to his knees at a conference and asked forgiveness from his black brothers for the sins of white evangelicals against them. It nevertheless is true that the Christian Coalition is a right-wing political organization and an unlikely instrument for racial reconciliation.

Many African-American pastors and parishioners are indeed theologically conservative, but it is hard to imagine real agreement on a political agenda. Christian Coalition members are not likely to give a high priority, for example, to overcoming the injustices of our criminal justice system that cause deep anger in the black community. Peter Gomes points out that “black people have had within their communities a high level of diversity.” It is doubtful that this diverse community could be molded into the kind of monolithic political organization necessary to fulfill the political purposes of the Christian Coalition.

I am privileged to belong to Riverside Baptist Church, a truly integrated church in Washington, D.C. Yet our minister reminds us that Sunday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. is still the most segregated hour in America. If someone could come along to lead Christians, both white and African-American, to true reconciliation and mutual commitment to each other, it would be wonderful for America, but I sincerely doubt that the Christian Coalition can be that instrument.

REV. JOHN H. BUCHANAN
FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE
BETHESDA, MD.

While the leaders of the Christian Coalition might be happy enough to do some good, they’re not about to sacrifice any of their political goals.

For Ralph Reed’s part, while he regularly apologizes for the sins of others on matters of race, he has never apologized for his boss, Pat Robertson — who once said that South African blacks under apartheid “don’t have it all that bad” — or, for that matter, for his own Christian Coalition. And while the coalition did an undeniably good thing in raising funds for burned-out African-American churches, it seems to have invested equal resources into telling the press about its good deeds.

Were Ralph Reed genuinely pursuing racial reconciliation, I imagine he’d stick around to do the job. Instead, he’s hitting the highway just as the rubber is about to hit the road. The Christian Coalition may continue to proclaim its interest in the issue, but without Reed’s remarkable capacity to promote an extreme agenda in tones of moderation, the challenge will be far greater.

MATTHEW FREEMAN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT
PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY
WASHINGTON, D.C.


There is nothing mainstream about the so-called Christian Coalition. Frantic attempts to redeem its image are like putting lipstick on a pig.

Robertson and Reed have played “good cop, bad cop,” standard street politics. Robertson insists that this is a Christian nation, while Reed is kinder and gentler. Robertson denies separation of church and state, while Reed admits grudgingly that it’s the American way. Robertson raises money for hunger needs in Africa and spends it looking for diamonds.

Ann Monroe asks: “What happens if the Christian Coalition succeeds in its goal of attracting large numbers of African-Americans?” It won’t happen.

My black brothers and sisters aren’t fools. The Bible teaches us not to judge. But the scriptures allow that “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). African-American Christians have become right good “fruit inspectors.”

JAMES M. DUNN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
BAPTIST JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC AFFAIRS
WASHINGTON, D.C.


If the Christian Coalition and other conservative groups don’t successfully reach out to black voters, the Republicans will be a minority in Congress in the years to come, since African-Americans, Hispanics, and other nonwhites will be a near majority of the voting public in 20 or 30 years. If they do, they’ll enrage the anti-affirmative action forces that make up the Christian Coalition’s base. A house divided against itself cannot stand, as the Democrats discovered in 1968. Liberals like me are grinning from ear to ear.

RICHARD STAMPER
HAMILTON, OHIO


Ann Monroe’s “Race to the Right” has a healthy balance of both the caution and the openness necessary to appraise the Christian Coalition’s outreach to the African-American community. The caution is natural given the historical record of the religious right, including its opposition to the civil rights movement, the establishment of “Christian” schools to undermine desegregation, the McCarthyite accusations of communism against Martin Luther King Jr. and others, and its cozy alliance with corporate interests at the expense of the poor and oppressed.

But we also need to be open to the future and not get locked into hardened stereotypes. People and institutions can change. A hymn puts it this way: “New occasions teach new duties/Time makes ancient good uncouth/They must upward still and onward/Who would keep abreast of Truth.” Whatever the initial motivations involved, identifying with the victims of oppression and prejudice can set off a series of changes in perceptions, commitments, and even beliefs. No telling where the “race to the right” might lead.

RICHARD DEATS, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS
FELLOWSHIP OF RECONCILIATION, INC.
NYACK, N.Y.


STOCKS AND STONES

The focus of Jeff Shear’s article (“Drug Deals,” May/June) is that my support for the Export Reform and Enhancement Act of 1996 is connected to my ownership of stock in a pharmaceutical company. It should be noted that I have introduced a “corporate welfare” package, which eliminates a program that provides research money to that company. It should also be noted that the biotech and medical device industry is one of New England’s fastest-growing job sectors.

SEN. JUDD GREGG (R-N.H.)
WASHINGTON, D.C.


As a citizen-legislator, I’ve come to the Senate not as a career politician with nothing but politics in his past, but as a surgeon, scientist, teacher, businessman — one who has been active and reasonably successful in each of these fields.

A true citizen-legislator inevitably will invoke shallow cries of potential “conflict of interest” (“Frist Aid,” May/June) because he brings to Washington a broad range of real-life experiences — such as holding a real job, making a payroll, supporting community projects, saving and investing for his children’s future.

My life experience does include the opportunity of watching my oldest brother and dad 30 years ago take an idea originally discussed at the breakfast table and, in the greatest of American traditions, grow that idea into the largest provider of health care in the country (Columbia/HCA). Though I have never worked or consulted for HCA, nor have I ever been based in an HCA hospital, its story is truly a demonstration of the American dream.

The bias in your article is reflected in your repeated references to HCA as a “family company” and me as the “heir.” It isn’t a family company — it is publicly owned by hundreds of thousands of individual Americans.

As for issues, the bipartisan provider-sponsored organizations (PSO) bill will inject a higher quality of care into the Medicare system — to the benefit of the 37 million senior Americans and individuals with disabilities. My support of giving our seniors the “choice” and “options” (like prescription coverage) that other Americans have brings equity to our seniors and preserves Medicare for future generations.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TENN.)
WASHINGTON, D.C.


The editors respond: Perhaps “hundreds of thousands of individual Americans” own stock in Columbia/ HCA. But few own as much as Sen. Frist, who disclosed in 1994 that he owned $13 million worth. Others in his family have still closer (and presumably more lucrative) connections to Columbia/HCA: His father was a founder and his brother is its vice chairman. The company stands to make millions from the PSO legislation Sen. Frist co-sponsored.

As for Columbia/HCA exemplifying the “American dream,” the company is currently under investigation for Medicare fraud by the Department of Health and Human Services; the FBI is conducting its own investigation of the company.

CAMPAIGN CLEANUP

Jeffrey Klein is right to warn that “our democracy is being stolen and fenced to the highest bidder” (Editor’s Note, May/June), but the central question for campaign finance reform is not the encroachment of foreign influences. Instead, we should attend to the core problem: politicians’ overall dependence on wealthy special interests to finance their campaigns. Just one-quarter of 1 percent of the population gives 80 percent of the political money. This way of funding campaigns is fundamentally anti-democratic and unfair. We won’t have real reform until candidates do not have to raise millions of dollars to be considered viable and until access to government is not determined by how much money you can give.

Along these lines, Jonathan Cohn (“Reform School,” May/June) is correct when he points out that “wringing the money out of politics” will take more than closing the soft money loophole. The best solution, I believe, is “clean money” campaign reform. Provide an alternative for candidates who are willing to reject all private financing and abide by spending limits: public financing. This approach is not as politically difficult as Cohn makes it sound. Last November, Maine’s voters embraced it by a 12-point margin, and a similar bill has been proposed in Vermont. And grassroots coalitions aiming to pass similar reforms are active in more than 20 other states.

ELLEN S. MILLER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
PUBLIC CAMPAIGN
WASHINGTON, D.C.


Your excellent Mother Jones 400 report (May/June) on the ruling elite that finances “our” nation’s politicians is remiss in one regard.

Peddling access and influence — the fact that J.B. Golddigger gives campaign money to buy friends on a committee overseeing mining legislation, etc. — is, indeed, a serious problem. But it pales in comparison to the wholesale control that monied interests exercise over all government policy.

All the hubbub over high-roller kaffeeklatsches and what influence this or that individual may have sought over a tax break here or government contract there only obscures this deeper and more sinister reality.

More than 90 percent of the time, the candidate who raises and spends the most money wins. Virtually all of this campaign money comes from the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. A recent PIRG study of California showed that 84 percent of campaign money raised comes from contributions of $1,000 or more. This is before you include soft money.

Meaningful reform must address not the excesses around the edges, such as soft money and foreign contributions, but the rot at the core.

DOUGLAS H. PHELPS, CHAIRMAN
U.S. PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP (PIRG)
WASHINGTON, D.C.


The debate about the problem of money in politics is over: Big money from wealthy individuals and interests corrupts the democratic process. Real campaign finance reform can’t come a moment too soon.

But what is real reform? National polls demonstrate incredibly robust support for a “clean money” approach. In a 1996 Mellman Group poll, 68 percent of respondents supported a proposal for federal races modeled after Maine’s. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) are introducing such a bill for federal races, and a House bill will be filed soon.

That’s why we take issue with Jonathan Cohn’s claim that public financing is the most difficult reform. We need to start thinking in terms of what is worth winning, not what is winnable today in Washington.

We wholeheartedly agree with Cohn that we need to “[strengthen] institutions that speak for average citizens.” The act of passing reform at the ballot box or through the legislature must become a democratic restoration project that builds institutions. Getting the private money out is the first step. Getting disenfranchised and disillusioned citizens back in is the next.

DAVID DONNELLY AND JANICE FINE
NORTHEAST ACTION
JAMAICA PLAIN, MASS.


THE VOLUNTEER SPIRIT

J. Jennings Moss’ recent profile of Terry McAuliffe (“Big Game Hunter,” May/June) was both inaccurate and misleading. Terry served as finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee from January through December of 1994. He stepped down to become finance chairman of the Clinton/Gore primary campaign from January 1995 to November 1995. After raising the legal limit of funds for the primary committee, Terry returned to the private sector. He did not have any role in the hiring or supervision of John Huang, who started at the DNC in December 1995. Terry’s role in regards to the DNC in 1996 was strictly as a volunteer whom we called upon to make fundraising calls to select individuals. He did not have any involvement or advisory role in the day-to-day activities of the DNC fundraising operation in 1996.

I clearly communicated these facts to Moss in the course of an hour-long conversation. I am both surprised and disappointed that you would print such an inaccurate and misleading profile.

RICHARD SULLIVAN
FORMER DNC FINANCE DIRECTOR
CHARLOTTE, N.C.


J. Jennings Moss responds: While Sullivan calls the story inaccurate and misleading, it’s unclear what he’s upset about. The story never claims that McAuliffe hired or supervised John Huang. It does, however, quote McAuliffe as saying he’d never met Huang, even though he previously had told other reporters that he had.

As for McAuliffe’s participation in Democratic fundraising after he resigned as Clinton/Gore finance chair, the story relies on the recollections of Dick Morris — Clinton’s top campaign strategist during the period — who says that it was his perception McAuliffe still had a hand in directing fundraising activities. It also quotes Clinton/ Gore campaign manager Peter Knight, who says McAuliffe mobilized business support for the Democratic ticket. At first, McAuliffe denied that he worked on the campaign after he resigned in 1995. But later, McAuliffe himself acknowledged that he raised $3-$5 million for the DNC in 1996.

Sullivan stresses that he made his concerns clear during a lengthy telephone call with me. By his own request, I allowed that conversation to remain off the record. I did, however, try three times to set up a follow-up interview to confirm information Sullivan had provided during our first conversation and ask whether he would be willing to go on the record with his views. Sullivan never returned my calls.

THE CHIPS HIT THE FAN

Your article “How the Chips Fell” (Outfront, May/June) omitted many essential points concerning the testing, regulatory approval, and use of olestra.

Olestra is perhaps the most tested food substance in history (with the sweetener aspartame the only possible exception). With decades of animal studies and human trials on more than 8,000 adults and children, the product has been shown to be safe.

It is also a potential boon to public health in the U.S., where one person in three is overweight, diets are dominated by fat, and diet-related diseases are the leading cause of death. Olestra can help to lower the proportion of fat and saturated fat in the diet.

As to your speculations about a conflict of interest influencing my views, the Hoover Institution receives contributions from thousands of individual and corporate donors. The gift from Procter & Gamble (makers of olestra) constitutes .15 percent of Hoover’s operating budget and in no way benefits me directly.

In the spirit of full disclosure, after my article criticizing the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s anti-olestra claims appeared in the Wall Street Journal, I did receive something of value from P&G — three bags of olestra-containing chips. (So much for the days when scholars worked for peanuts.)

HENRY I. MILLER, M.D.
SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION
STANFORD UNIVERSITY
STANFORD, CALIF.


DEBATING DEPRESSION

It is indeed sad for me to read in Mother Jones an article like Michael Castleman’s “Becoming Unblued” (WellBeing, May/June). After 35 years as a practicing psychiatrist and psychotherapist, I do not have such easy recommendations for treatment as does Mr. Castleman. While cognitive therapy may be helpful, it can also fail.

Therapy needs to arise from the difficult struggle to understand the unique and complex experiences that lead to human suffering and the strengths that each person brings to the experience. Too often, therapy is now designed to meet the needs of Corporate America (managed care) by becoming efficient, therefore giving another dehumanizing experience to someone already suffering from having been dehumanized.

RON A. BLANCHETTE, M.D.
VENTURA, CALIF.


Michael Castleman implies that the widespread prescription of antidepressants is the result of some kind of scam by pharmaceutical companies. He overlooks the fact that these medications are prescribed by psychiatrists — i.e., trained physicians who specialize in the treatment of “mental illness.” I suffered from chronic mild to moderate depression for years without knowing it. For years I went to psychologists who were primarily cognitive therapists. But nothing seemed to work. It wasn’t until I got on antidepressants that I finally had the emotional energy to make real progress in cognitive therapy. The medications combined with the therapy dramatically improved the quality of my life.

NAME WITHHELD
PEMBROKE PINES, FLA.



Correction: Due to an editing error, the WellBeing column “Becoming Unblued” (May/June) listed Wellbutrin in the same drug family as Prozac. In fact, Wellbutrin is chemically quite different from the Prozac group of antidepressants and is less likely to negatively affect a patient’s sex drive than are antidepressants in the Prozac group.


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