Mojo - June 2008

Evangelicals Hold Their Breaths as Baptism Numbers Drop

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 1:55 PM PDT
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In our current issue Debra Dickerson writes approvingly of Christine Wicker's new book, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, which makes the case that evangelical Christians are not as multitudinous as they—or the media and the religious right—have made themselves out to be. In her number crunching, Wicker found that the Southern Baptists have been making some generous estimates of their flock: They've claimed to be 16 million strong, but she estimates the real number of devoted churchgoers is 4 million or fewer. Now, USA Today reports, there are new indications that the church is losing demographic ground:

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Fun With Excel: How Has Age Played In Presidential Elections Since 1789?

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 1:19 PM PDT

There's already been some good examination of how much the age gap between John McCain and Barack Obama will matter in November. ThingsYoungerThanMcCain.com, for example, is doing the yeoman's work of listing the many, many items—like lubricated condoms and the LP record—that are younger than McCain.

And the folks at the Pew Research Center conducted a poll in February that found 26 percent of registered voters think John McCain is too old to be president (the number jumps to 32 percent when voters are told that McCain is 71).

We know that Barack Obama will be 47 on election day and McCain will be 72, meaning that 2008 will see a larger age gap between the top two presidential candidates than any of the previous 55 presidential elections. So here's my question: how has age played in presidential elections in the past? Let's look at a chart (takeaways at the bottom):

Brazen McCain Flip-Flop on the Estate Tax

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 10:46 AM PDT

The Wonk Room has a good catch.

McCain in September 2005:

"I follow the course of a great Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, who talked about the malefactors of great wealth and gave us the estate tax. I oppose the rich passing on fortunes."

McCain yesterday:

"The estate tax is one of the most unfair tax laws on the books."

This of course compliments McCain's biggest tax flip flop. Back when he cared more about principle and less about winning elections, he was against the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Now he's for them, and more.

Former McCain flip-flops here and here.

Should We Care About the First Mrs. McCain?

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 10:33 AM PDT

The UK Daily Mail recently posted a rare interview with Carol Shepp McCain, a woman eager to join the largely forgettable ranks—Hannah Van Buren, anyone?—of almost-first ladies.

So here's what Carol broke her silence to say:

Carol insists she remains on good terms with her ex-husband, who agreed as part of their divorce settlement to pay her medical costs for life. 'I have no bitterness,' she says. 'My accident is well recorded. I had 23 operations, I am five inches shorter than I used to be and I was in hospital for six months. It was just awful, but it wasn't the reason for my divorce.

Yep, scintillating stuff indeed.

Your call as to whether or not some journalist will be able to extract a negative word from the former Mrs. McCain this election cycle. They'll certainly keep trying.

—Daniel Luzer

Hey, a Brand New Bush Administration Scandal!

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 10:19 AM PDT

Who would have thought it was possible, at this late date?

Apparently, the DOJ's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has been handing out its National Juvenile Justice Grants not based on the interests of America's at-risk kids, but on cronyism and fraud.

Programs ranked as highly effective by DOJ staff were ignored and denied funding, sometimes because they taught sex ed or because they catered to gay and lesbian teens. Meanwhile, poorly ranked programs were awarded millions of dollars because they had political, social, or religious connections to the Bush Administration. None of the top six programs received money, but the World Golf Foundation, ranked 47 out of 104, was funded. Former President George H. W. Bush sits on its board.

The full report is at ABC News. Embedding seems impossible. TNR notes that this exact scandal happened during the Reagan Administration.

New McCain Line: Obama = Carter

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 8:17 AM PDT

Yesterday, in an interview with NBC's Brian Williams, John McCain introduced a historical analogy that he obviously hopes will be as sticky as McCain = Bush. "Sen. Obama says that I'm running for a Bush's third term. It seems to me he's running for Jimmy Carter's second," he said. "I think this — election is about change, Brian. I think it's the right kind of change versus the wrong kind of change. Sen. Obama wants to dust off the old big government, high taxes ideas of the 60s and 70s that failed then."

First of all, as I've said before, I don't see how McCain wins when the argument for his candidacy is fundamentally a defensive one. To paraphrase McCain, he's saying, "I accept Sen. Obama's terms for this election; it is about change. And even though he's become synonymous with change, I believe I'm the better kind of change." That's weak. And not likely to be effective.

And neither is this Carter analogy. People obviously associate certain things with Carter that McCain wants people associating with Obama. Smart but weak. Unable to deal with high gas prices, a struggling economy, or trouble in the middle east. I get that. But Carter took office more than 30 years ago. As MSNBC's First Read points out, no one who is under 50 today was eligible to vote when Carter first won election. Doesn't this just cement the idea that McCain is stuck in the past, and still sees the world in outdated terms?

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World Leaders Take Gloves Off With Bush

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 7:57 AM PDT

Now that (1) George Bush is exiting the presidency and (2) he is wildly unpopular in his own country, international leaders are willing to criticize him more openly. And not only are they willing to criticize him, they are willing to do so on the record and in their country's most famous newspaper.

On the eve of President Bush's arrival in Germany, German leaders are taking Bush to the woodshed in Der Spiegel. Witness:

Hans-Ulrich Klose, foreign policy expert for the center-left Social Democrats and deputy chairman of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee, said: "One really can't say George W. Bush made the world a better place. On the contrary: His actions played a big part in damaging America's image around the world."
Guido Westerwelle, the head of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party, said: "The Bush era was not a good one — neither for America nor for those who see themselves as friends of America." … The Iraq war weakened the UN, he said, adding that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp was a "disgrace to all the values that America, of all countries, stands for."
Jürgen Trittin, a senior member of the opposition Green Party, said Bush "definitely made the world worse."

As recent polling shows, these leaders are just reflecting the sentiment of their constituents.

Abramoff's White House "Fruit"

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 7:24 PM PDT

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Despite administration denials, superlobbyist-turned-felon Jack Abramoff did have political traction in the White House, according to a damning draft report released Monday by Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) House government oversight committee. Among the findings: Before he was disgraced, Abramoff provided gifts and meals to White House officials, met with President George W. Bush at least six times, and influenced a State Department dismissal and a presidential political endorsement.

While the draft report does not allege that Abramoff influenced any decision taken by President Bush himself, the latest revelations seem to confirm the conclusions of an earlier oversight committee report sketching out Abramoff's influence in the White House. The first report, issued in September 2006, used billing records and emails from Abramoff's firm as its main sources of information. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino subsequently attacked the first report for being based on "fraudulent" records, and then-White House spokesman Tony Snow claimed Abramoff "got nothing" from his efforts at 1600 Pennsylvania.

Instead of giving up in the face of the administration's attacks on the committee's first report, Rep. Waxman requested the White House's own information about its contacts with the superlobbyist. The White House's own records confirmed what Tony Snow had denied: Abramoff often got what he wanted from the White House, even when what Abramoff wanted went against the advice of the president's own party. In the new report, the committee hammers the administration for allowing its representatives to initially mischaracterize Abramoff's relationship with the White House: "the White House failed to conduct even the most basic internal investigation of the White House relationship with Mr. Abramoff before making public statements characterizing the connection between Mr. Abramoff and the White House."

The latest findings strongly imply that Abramoff's success was at least partially due to his use of what one administration official referred to as "fruit": Gifts including meals and sports tickets. According to the White House documents and testimony, White House officials asked for or received tickets from Abramoff associates on 21 confirmed occasions. The report says:

How Accurate Was the Obama Delegate Prediction Spreadsheet?

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 7:12 PM PDT

On February 7, an internal Obama campaign spreadsheet leaked in the press. It contained the campaign's predictions for all of the remaining primaries. Now that the primaries are over, we have the opportunity to judge the accuracy of Obama's prognosticators, who, as everyone knows by now, showed remarkable prescience in their planning this campaign season.

Below are the spreadsheet's popular vote and delegate predictions compared to actual results. The numbers show that the Obama campaign strategists were routinely too conservative: they underpredicted both the margins of their victories and their losses. They often anticipated a close to 50-50 split in a state that turned out to seriously favor one of the two candidates.

Of the states they predicted correctly, they underpredicted their margin of victory (aka were too pessimistic) in 16 states and underpredicted their margin of loss (aka were too optimistic) in six. They only overpredicted their margin of victory in two states, and never overpredicted a loss. In total, they got 24 of the 27 primaries after February 5th correct.

Of the ones the campaign got wrong, they were too hopeful in South Dakota and Indiana, where they predicted victories but suffered losses, and were too pessimistic in Maine, where they predicted a close loss but actually saw a substantial victory.

They nailed the delegate count exactly in five states, and were within one delegate in five more. They predicted their delegate count to within five delegates in 23 of the 27 primaries.

Rev. Rod Parsley, McCain's Former Ally, Caught in a Lie?

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 3:07 PM PDT

Rod Parsley has trouble with one of the Ten Commandments.

Parsley is the fundamentalist pastor of an Ohio megachurch who was belatedly renounced by John McCain, two months after Mother Jones reported that Parsley, whom McCain had praised and campaigned with, had declared in a book that Islam was a "false religion" that ought to be "destroyed." (For a video, produced by Mother Jones and Brave New Films, showing Parsley in full anti-Islam throttle, click here.)

Sometime after McCain on May 22 rejected Parsley's endorsement, Parsley put out a video in which he responded to the McCain controversy and sought to explain his "Biblical worldview" on Islam. In this statement, he violated the thou-shall-not-fib rule.

First, he accused "political hit squads" (meaning, yours truly) of describing his views in "the most ominous and extreme terms." You can review the MotherJones/Brave New Films video and decide for yourself how "ominous and extreme" Parsley has been. Then, more telling, he betrayed himself, by running away from his own views. In the video, he says his take on Islam is "in the mainstream" and that "I have always, and I will continue, to make a clear distinction between Muslim terrorists and the vast majority of peaceful Muslims."

Not true. In his own book, Silent No More, Parsley declares,

There are some, of course, who will say that the [Islamist] violence I cite is the exception and not the rule. I beg to differ. I will counter, respectfully, that what some call "extremists" are instead mainstream believers who are drawing from the well at the very heart of Islam.

In other words, Islamic terrorists are not bad apples; the faith itself is evil. In his book and in a video sermon on Islam, Parsley does not differentiate between Islam and radical Islam. In fact, he says the two are the same. He also claims that the entire Islam religion is a Satanic deception. And he notes that Islam "is an anti-Christ religion that intends, through violence, to conquer the world." All this is not the mainstream view of Islam.

So when Parsley maintains on his recent video that he does indeed distinguish between radical Islam and the rest of the faith, he appears to be lying. Sure, it's not nice to accuse a man of the cloth of being a liar, but I don't know how one gets around such an obvious conclusion in this case. Parsley clearly knows what he has said and written in the past. He must realize that he is now engaging in nothing but spin.

In his own video, Parsley says, "I understand that the raw truth of the pulpit cannot survive untempered in the political sphere." Entering the political sphere, he has denied stating what he actually stated. And there ain't much "raw truth" in that.

(Credit to Right Wing Watch for spotting Parsley's video.)