Political Hay

Honey, Jim Wallis Shrunk the Church

Savages Palin after calling for civility -- will he take the Public Option Pledge?

By 8.25.09

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"Many of you have older members of your congregations. They're all now scared to death that someone is talking about cutting Medicare benefits. That is again simply not true….There has been a lot misinformation in this debate and there are some folks out there who are frankly bearing false witness. This notion that somehow we are setting up death panels that would decide on whether elderly people get to live or die…that is just an extraordinary lie."
-- President Obama in a phone call to 140,000 religious left activists

Let's get religion.

And a wonderful religion it is. There's a God. Commandments. Disciples, but of course, not to mention lots and lots of Followers. There is also a Judas. And a preacher -- don't forget the preacher.

In this case, that would be the theologically correct yet always smiling Reverend Jim Wallis

Smiling Jim. Today's Man of God, yesterday's Man of the State. Today the head of the religious group called Sojourners who was a leading participant in a recent health care phone call between 140,000 "people of faith" and President Obama. Yesterday a leader in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a group that also fancied itself as a people of faith. A very different faith.

Smiling Jim wasn't always smiling in those yesterdays, presumably. Smiling had to be a tough chore if you were president of the Michigan State University chapter of the hard-left SDS. You remember the SDS, don't you? That charmingly grim-faced sixties group that more than frequently displayed its taste for violent/authoritarian regimes when it wasn't being violent/authoritarian itself. The intellectual breeding ground that birthed the once again famous Bill Ayers -- he the friend of Barack now best known as "the unrepentant terrorist" -- and Mrs. Ayers.

That would be Bernadine Dohrn, who helped launch the Weatherman faction of, yes, Smiling Jim's SDS. The 2008 campaign re-introduced us all to the notion that Mr. Ayres thought it a romantic idea to blow up the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon. It shot us back in time to the cozy feelings of moral superiority felt by SDS members who believed in the moral equivalence of America and the various Communists tyrannies of the day. In 2009 America, by chance yet again, has been reminded of the moral sentiments that ran in the intellectual veins of the far-left as the 40th anniversary of the gruesome Manson murders made the news. We seem not to be reminded that the President's political career was launched in the living room of Mrs. Ayers, SDS'er Dohrn, who commented in this fashion at the time of the Manson nightmare:

"Dig it! First they killed those pigs and then they put a fork in pig Tate's belly. Wild!"

The Tate reference was to the murder of actress Sharon Tate, murdered in the Manson slaughter when she was eight months pregnant.

Thankfully Smiling Jim never signed up with the violent antics of the Ayers husband and wife team. What, after all, is to be gained spending time with those who were the 1960s embodiment of some dialogue from a Batman film? Mean kids, bad seeds who hurt people. Heads full of bad wiring.

So it was divinity school instead for Smiling Jim, a decidedly better choice. Trailing along somewhere in this exploration of God, however, was the unmistakable whiff of the real old time religion that lay at the core of the SDS -- and is today at the core of the religious left:

The lust for control -- power -- over the lives of others.

WHAT BROUGHT WALLIS and the SDS to mind were two recent incidents involving Smiling Jim, both taking place in the midst of the hurricane that has become the health care debate.

The first involved Smiling Jim's furious reaction to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's famous statement that the health care bill was provisioning "evil" with what she termed "death panels." A board that would effectively place bureaucrats between patients and doctors as a result of government rationed care, eventually and inevitably rationing to the detriment of the weakest among us.

There was a considerable uproar over this Palin statement. In fact, Governor Palin's August 7 Facebook statement came almost two weeks after the same conclusion had been drawn quite independently in this very space when I asked the rude but necessary question "Who Will Tell Michael J. Fox He Needs to Die?" It was already abundantly clear that government rationing of health care -- which is in fact the objective of the Obama health care effort -- would inevitably have fateful consequences for the most vulnerable in our society. Specifically that would include the elderly, the disabled, those with AIDS, minorities, women with breast cancer, men with prostate cancer, among others. Not to mention people like actor Fox, who famously suffers terribly from Parkinson's disease.

This point, it should be said, has since been made most effectively yet again by one of the few doctors in Congress, Dr. Tom Coburn, the Senator from Oklahoma. In an interview with Oklahoma television station KOTV,  Dr. Coburn quite specifically backed up Palin and challenged the President -- who is a friend of his. He made it clear that he had given Senate Democrats three different opportunities to back away from the "death panel" concept -- specifically called the comparative effectiveness board:

I offered three different times in the mark-up in the committee an absolute prohibition of rationing coming from the comparative effectiveness board. They denied it all three times. They voted this down all three times. So if you don't want an absolute prohibition what could be your motivation to not want it to be prohibited?(It) is that you intend to use rationing to control costs. Now, they voted this down 13-10, 13-10, 13-10. My only understanding is why would you not want an absolute prohibition is because you ultimately intend to ration care. And their plan -- they're not going to speak it cause they know if they speak it it'll never pass, their plan is to control costs by limiting options. That's how England controls costs, that's how Canada controls costs…and unfortunately tons of people die every year. 114 million people will lose their coverage under the bills in the House and Senate.

Yet government rationing is precisely the objective of the fanatical left, those folks whose ideological roots spring from the same ground that nourished Smiling Jim in his unsmiling days with the SDS. Sarah Palin, in zeroing in with considerable acuity on the central fact at hand, had suddenly stirred an uprising without ever leaving Alaska. In fact, she had put a sitting President of the United States on the defensive with his top legislative priority. So Smiling Jim -- that would actually be the Reverend Smiling Jim -- who back in 2008 was complaining religiously about the "utter political incivility" of the day, said this of Sarah Palin:

Sarah, you're the one who is acting in an "evil" way. After listening to your policy pronouncements during the campaign, many Americans decided, generously, that you weren't ready yet for high political office. Others thought you just weren't very smart. But this statement last week really does clear up the question for me. You are speaking like a demagogue in the worst tradition of those who knowingly distort and deceive, for their own political purposes. You want to stoke people's worst fears and then, hopefully, they will look to someone like you to be their leader. You're not stupid after all. You know that neither President Obama, nor anyone else in this health-care debate, would deny health care for your parents or child, and that none of the ideas being debated would suggest that. But people are confused and concerned, so you see your chance to prey upon their misunderstandings. Politics for people like you is really all about you, your fame and power, and your taste of it during the last election has revealed what kind of politician you truly are.

Please don't invoke your "Christian faith" anymore and embarrass the people of God even further. May your efforts to scare Americans during this important debate fail. May your political future also fail, and may your star fall as fast as it rose just a few months ago -- because we now know who you really are.

Well.

Was the Reverend Smiling Jim still smiling? Definitely not. Was the Reverend Smiling Jim rude, condescending, and uncivil? Utterly. Was he un-Christian? Surely. An embarrassment to the people of God. Ouch. You might even say that he displayed a witch-hunting zeal, not exactly the first thing you think of when the term "man of God" comes to mind. Unless we're talking about old Cotton Mather breathing fire over those witches in Salem.

Or the old SDS.

WHAT REALLY CATCHES one's attention is the realization that this quite public meltdown of the Reverend Smiling Jim's was one of those telltale moments when someone of the far left gets so infuriated that the public mask slips. It helps, perhaps, to be a Baby Boomer, to have lived through the Time of the SDS -- to translate the subtext here for those who look at this kind of thing agog and wonder how a man-of-the-cloth with such a benignly wonderful reputation today as the Sojourning Reverend Smiling Jim could quite deliberately spew this kind of Mather-esque rage.

The answer is, at least in part, that the SDS and the far left of the 1960s -- in spite of its fancy rhetoric -- had serious problems with two things: gender and race. They could talk a good game, but in the end the SDS was filled with a lot of white boys -- literally -- like Smiling Jim who in their heart of hearts were sexist -- and like Cotton Mather just couldn't abide smart women in authority roles. Witches being something of a bygone target by the 1960s, the word generally used replaced the "w" with a "b."

Think for a moment of another recent image seemingly unconnected to all of this -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's contretemps over in the Congo. Out of the blue, a mistranslation was at play leading her to believe the questioner was asking about her husband's views when the questioner really meant Obama's views as the sitting president. Clinton exploded. In an on-camera feminist rant she snapped that she would not be "channeling" the man who is her husband because "I'm the Secretary of State." One doesn't instantly respond the way Clinton did for no reason. Quite obviously, as a liberal, Clinton has spent vast quantities of time from her college days forward dealing with "liberal" men like Wallis. Men who, like her husband, nominally share her political views. All too frequently these men are politically left on the surface but underneath nothing more or less than your garden variety white boy sexist. Clinton has been there and done that a zillion times, and this mistranslation plus perhaps some jet lag brought a lifetime of rage about this kind of thing to an instant boiling overflow.

That same sexist attitude Hillary Clinton thought she heard from her questioner is precisely what surfaced when the Reverend Smiling Jim went after Sarah Palin. Read his embarrassing statement again. It is filled with the kind of snarky condescension only someone who considers himself to be a smart left-wing white boy can display. Let's time travel a bit, and say that the death-panel statement Sarah Palin made came from one of her white male predecessors as an unsuccessful Republican vice-presidential nominee. Can you imagine Smiling Jim ever addressing, say, Barry Goldwater's defeated running mate William Miller this way? Or Jerry Ford's Bob Dole? Or Bob Dole's Jack Kemp? Of course not. White boys don't talk to white boys like this. He tellingly didn't find it important enough to say about white guy Doc Coburn, the Senator who actually knows something about the subject of practicing medicine and who says Palin is correct on the subject of death panels.

In fact, the very obvious point is that the Reverend Smiling Jim's mask dropped precisely because unlike the three losing GOP-veep nominees mentioned here, Palin is a considerably potent political threat in the way the others were not in their post-national ticket runs. She is not just a threat to Obama and health care, but as a smart, articulate politically popular conservative woman nurturing a disabled child and having aging parents she is a mortal threat to the Reverend Smiling Jim's entire leftward vision.

A vision of a world safely controlled by the likes of himself, his left-wing white friends or his black, Latino, and female left-wing friends who are the political equivalent of what Malcolm X loved to shiv as the House Negro. They have not the courage to disagree with the folks in the mansion of the left-wing intellectual plantation because, as with the treatment of Sarah Palin and, say, Clarence Thomas, they know the knives will come out.

That world to which the Reverend Smiling Jim hopes to sojourn us all involves a more polished yet still authentically authoritarian vision of control than was expressed back in the glory days of the SDS. But it is most definitely the exact opposite of a health care system based on principles of liberty, individual freedom, and choice. A world where, in spite of the myth that the "death panels" are a myth, abolishing them for good is voted down in the United States Senate 13-10 three times over. A world where, as just revealed in the Wall Street Journal, the Obama Veterans Administration has OK'd the use of what is referred to internally as the "Death Book" -- a volume that effectively and typically of the leftwing mindset gives disabled vets a push towards the abyss.

Since the Reverend Smiling Jim is so adamant about this, it is useful to understand that his life, while certainly not personally dabbling in violence as did Ayres and his wife, has spun out along precisely the same ideological lines beloved of the SDS he was so eager to serve in college. Except he chose to inflect the touch of God in the whole business. And in the world of the religious left, the real God is not, well, you know, God.

The real God for the American left -- "religious" or not -- is Control. The central Commandment is Power, and the Disciples and Followers are all at varying degrees faithful to their God. -- whether it be control of health care today, education tomorrow, or tax policy the day after that, or General Motors on Day One. First, last, and always, the Alpha and the Omega is Control of your life. The Judas here is Palin -- The Feminist -- or any conservative black or Latino (Clarence Thomas, Michael Steele, Miguel Estrada etc., etc.) who, by quite deliberately denying the God of government Control betrays The Faith. As the Reverend Smiling Jim's instinctively vituperative treatment of Palin indicates, those who betray -- women and minorities most prominently -- must be dealt with harshly.

Were Cotton Mather here today to read Wallis's screed he would be bursting with pride. The good Reverend Mather would take one look and listen to the Witch Palin and know precisely that the Reverend Smiling Jim has got all the Salem essentials down cold.

This would also explain why the Reverend Smiling Jim sits still for Obama's repeated misrepresentations of what he is doing. Promising that Americans can still keep their doctor and their health care plan just as they have it now is, as the Reverend Smiling Jim and the President himself knows, flatly not so. The President is on videotape insisting he wants to get rid of private employer-based insurance but that it will take 15-20 years to do so. All this misrepresentation is necessary to gull Americans into giving up their freedom to choose, their liberty -- to force them to worship the left-wing God of Control -- and they are, blessedly, acutely aware of this.

WHICH BRINGS US to two final points.

As is frequently noted, mainline Protestant denominations -- the prominent ones being the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, United Methodists, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian (USA) and the Episcopal Church -- may be losing their once dominant status, but they are still filled to the brim with aging middle and upper class white seniors. Precisely the kind of people who have been in the headlines for showing up in a fury at all these healthcare town hall meetings with members of Congress.

Which may explain a curious point. Of the 16 people who participated on the phone call with President Obama only one -- Dr. Sharon Watkins, the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) -- was the head of one of these major denominations. The heads of the Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Evangelical Lutherans and United Church of Christ were either not invited or declined an invitation to speak. They did allow the names of their denominations to be listed as a "call sponsor" -- but there was literally no voice to be heard from people who are never shy about this sort of thing.

When a liberal Democratic president and his team can't enlist the dependably liberal leaders of these churches to even get on the phone for a much ballyhooed call with the White House -- the immediate conclusion is startling. There is a reason the President mentions that seniors in these church congregations are scared. He is trying to soothe a nervous liberal church leadership. It may be safe to talk about same-sex marriage in these denominations. But it is decidedly not wise to be heard on a call with the President of the United States endorsing a health care plan laden with a vision of death panels and government rationed care that, as already illustrated in the Obama-run VA's "Death Book," is designed to push the elderly, the disabled, and the frail to the inevitable consequences of government-sponsored rationed death. It's definitely not a good idea when all these older people give money to the church, money that funds the staff and offices and programs of these national churches.

On The Reverend Smiling Jim's Sojourners website is a plea to "Sign 'A Christian Creed on Health-Care Reform' and a copy of it will be sent to your members of Congress." What's missing, like the Sherlock Holmes dog that didn't bark, is a clue to the reality of the left and health care. Just as Al Gore warns of global warming while running around the planet on private jets, and the Kennedys want green energy except for windmills that would spoil the view in Hyannis, Jim Wallis has made no effort to sign up members of Congress and liberal allies in the faith community and elsewhere to a pledge that they would quite publicly commit to putting both themselves and their families on the government-sponsored public health care option.

Will he do it? Will he say to Barack Obama --"Sir, when you leave the White House, will you and your family decline private insurance and put yourselves on the public option plan?" Ditto to Vice President Biden, all supporters of the public option in the House and Senate, all heads of church denominations, their families and their denominational staffs? Will the Reverend Smiling Jim get all those MSNBC supporters of ObamaCare to pledge they will give up their General Electric-employer based insurance for the public option? The publisher of the New York Times? Will they all commit to forgo whatever private wealth they may have and, when they or a family member has a health care problem, stick with the public option only -- and tell all the rest of us?

What do you think?

Will the Reverend Smiling Jim get the ball rolling by even pledging to sign himself up to such a plan?

The problem with the Reverend Smiling Jim Wallis is that in his insistence on claiming the high ground of morality in the health care debate -- while simultaneously demeaning Governor Palin in tones as breathtakingly condescending as they were contemptuous -- he not only loses any right to anything touching on a moral claim but winds up flecking mud over people of faith in all denominations and of all beliefs. He showed himself not as a thoughtful religious activist of the left but as a shockingly mean-spirited sexist snob. A man who simply by writing such a thing demonstrated not only his lack of smarts but his willingness to invoke his alleged Christian faith in a demagogic fury that can generously be summed up as sexist authoritarian garbage.

Of the many political casualties on a growing list in this health care debate, a list that includes the President's credibility and that of his staff and the onetime faithful allegiance of seniors to Democrats, you can now add the reputation of Jim Wallis.

His vituperative and decidedly un-Christian rage at Governor Palin has served as a timely reminder of just who the real Jim Wallis really is and from which well the real Jim Wallis draws his core beliefs. Those beliefs come not from the deep well of Christian charity, tolerance, and love, but rather from a movement that was the epitome of intolerance, rage, sexism, racism, and a lust for the control of others that is the real God of the left.

In doing this, Jim Wallis not only damages others of all faiths -- he manages something that is hard to do.

Make God's church look small.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.