Kudos to Bill Keller, down with wimpiness

He’s so right. “We need to ask candidates tougher questions about their faith,” Keller, the NYT executive editor writes in this week’s NYT mag. If a presidential candidate believes in the rapture, does that mean that s/he could never appoint an atheist to the Supreme Court?

That’s the way we’re rolling these days: It’s my way or the highway.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas thinks of himself as an “originalist” and although he hasn’t posed a question at court proceedings in five years, he’s writing opinions neglecting precedent or that the framers of the Constitution allowed for changing times).

What are we so squeamish about? asks Keller. Be more aggressive, he advises journalists and ordinary citizens. I remember all the hubbub about Catholic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy during the 1960 campaign. People worried that if elected president he would have to consult with the pope before making decisions. Back then, voters were adamant about a president not being beholden to religious dogma in policy-making.

Today the opposite seems to be true; the more adherence to religious “values” the better. Worse yet, we’re not talking about nicey nice religious values like “love thy neighbor.” Disregard science, be subservient to your husband while condemning how some Americans choose to love, disregard the poor by condoning huge tax cuts to the wealthiest among us, and so on.

Keller has sent Republican presidential candidates questionnaires. Here are a few of his excellent questions:

“Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a ‘Christian nation’ or ‘Judeo-Christian’ [I’ve never heard that one] and what does that mean in practice?”

“Would you have any hesitation in appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?”

Why we don’t  ask more aggressive questions? For example, I’d ask, when there are millions of people out of jobs and the income level of working Americans hasn’t risen in years, how will you specifically help the unemployed? What are they supposed to do, pull themselves up by their ‘American Dream’ bootstraps, even if they have no boots?

I don’t like wimpiness. What are we so afraid of, especially journalists, whom I always told my students were the fifth branch of government? But I’m not only talking about journalists; we’re lucky enough to discuss controversial topics without being carted off to jail.

Can we be respectful without being wimps? I just finished reading “Dreaming in English” by Tucsonan Laura Fitzgerald. Ike, the recently married husband of Tami, an Iranian woman new to America, keeps telling her to stand up for herself, to be strong. Without giving away the story, when Tami finally speaks her mind without fear of what might happen, she wins it all. Granted she’s come from a repressive country and traditionally must gives in to her likely fate, but she finally gets it.

She gets the importance of not being wimpy, for those she loves, but mostly for herself. Guess I’ve always thought that the crux of good education is learning to speak up for yourself, doing your research and asking perceptive questions.

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