Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Post On WikiLeaks and the New York Times

Here's my Huffington Post article on the WikiLeaks articles, the US media and the military.

The New York Times, Danish Cartoons v. WikiLeaks

By Frank Schaeffer


When the Danish cartoons were published the New York Times decided that its readers didn't need to see them. When WikiLeaks dumped thousands of secret diplomatic and military cables into the Times' lap the "paper of record" jumped at the chance and published. Maybe they were right to do so. However they were also hypocrites.

Not all news is created equal. Why did the Times not publish the Danish cartoons, but did publish our national diplomatic and military secrets?

Ask yourself this: would the Times republish its own internal editor-to-reporter memos and/or tape recordings of conversations between its top editors and owners if these fell into the hands of WikiLeaks, say, honest discussions about the risk posed to the Times' by terrorists if they had published the Danish cartoons?

American diplomacy, messy as it may be, is all that stands between most of us and an even more chaotic and dangerous world. And of course our troops in the field -- troops like my Marine son -- are the people most likely to die or suffer injuries as a direct result of making the world a more dangerous place by undermining our State Department. If there is less talking there will be more shooting.

When it comes to putting people at risk the Times cares about its safety and the safety of people like the editors and owners more than the safety of American troops. Otherwise how do you explain why the Danish cartoons weren't "newsworthy" and the WikiLeaks that put our military at risk are?

It's been a long time since the sort of people running the Times volunteered for military service. "Our kind" just don't do that these days.

It was not always this way. Our museums are filled with portraits of the leading sons of the leading families who led fateful charges, sometimes were harmed, sometimes returned to fame and fortune but all of whom did their part. Back in the day New York Times publisher, (1963-91) Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Sr. served in the Marine Corps during World War II, serving from 1944 to 1946.

A lot has changed since our political, business and academic leaders encouraged, even expected, their children to serve as part of the growing up process and as something that many Americans just did with the full support of their loved ones.

This is not a Democrat-Republican or Left/Right issue. It is a class issue -- successful coastal Republicans are as likely to be divorced from the military as left wing Democrats. Small town and middle class Democrats are more likely to have someone in the military in their extended social group than wealthy Republicans living in big cities.

The gap, between the opinion-makers -- the cultural, professional, and business elites -- and the military is harming us as a country now and may harm us to a far greater extent in the future. There has been a presumption that "other people" are handling that task just fine.

"Let's be clear. This disclosure is not just an attack on America -- it's an attack on the international community," Hillary Clinton said at a State Department news conference. Such leaks, she said, "tear at the fabric" of responsible government. "There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations," she added.

In an editorial the Times editors responded: "The claim by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the leaks threaten national security seems exaggerated."

If more Americans are killed in our never-ending misbegotten wars because it turns out that Clinton was right and the Times editors were wrong, there's one thing you can count on: the editors' own sons and daughters won't be the victims.

Maybe the Times and other respectable news outlets are right to publish the WikiLeaks. I think they may be. But their claim that they are only doing so because of the public's "right to know" rings hollow in the light of their selective willingness to take risks as great as they are willing to inflict on others.

If the Times really served the news first they would have also published the Danish cartoons. But then that would have put them at personal risk, something the class of people who run and own the our major media these days will never allow, a fact I explore in depth in my book, Keeping Faith, about the class divide related to military service and how it impacted me because of my own (rather shameful) shock when my son unexpectedly volunteered.

Personal risk of life and limb for one's country is something "our kind" just don't do these days.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jews and Evangelicals

By Frank Schaeffer


There is no way to get on the inside of the who-is-chosen question without unpacking the quirky relationship Evangelicals have with Jews, both embracing them and condemning them to eternal damnation. This has to be one of the odder relationships ever concocted, sort of like those news stories that crop up once in a while about how a cat befriends a hamster.

Evangelicals brood over the Jews. Jesus was a Jew. But then He started a whole "new" religion that instantly was in conflict with the Jews. To Us Real Christians (as I once thought of us) there were Actual Jews and then there were Real Jews. Evangelicals' believe that they are also The Chosen People. Some Evangelicals believe they are the only chosen people now. Others think that the Jews are still chosen, too.

But at the beginning of the Church that "new" religion was made up mostly of Jews -- Paul and company. So Jews were a big deal to my Evangelical family. We, as with most Evangelicals, liked Jews, and feared them, and felt sorry for them.

Conflicted is the word.

Who the Jews "are" (from the Evangelical theological point of view) is a big deal to Christians. It should be to all Americans, too. It has a direct impact on American policy, given the sway of religion in America.

My late father, Francis Schaeffer, was a key founder and leader of the Religious Right. My mother Edith was also a spiritual leader, a formidable and adored religious figure whose books and public speaking, not to mention biblical conditioning of me, directly and indirectly shaped millions of lives.

Mom loved to try to "save" Jews (she even wrote a book called Christianity Is Jewish) and especially the ones already interested in spiritual matters -- or "Jew Stuff" as I always thought of such things when Mom carried on and on and on about a Jew she'd just met and the "great conversation we had about Passover's true meaning," or whatever. Mom urged her kids to find ways to talk to any Jew we met about "Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled" as a way to "open a door."

For a time, I joined my Dad in pioneering the Evangelical anti-abortion Religious Right movement and we worked with several neoconservative Jews. They weren't interested in our "issue," but we all were rooting for Israel. In the 1970s and early 80s, when I was in my 20s, I evolved into an ambitious, "successful" religious leader/instigator in my own right. And I wasn't just Dad's sidekick. I was also Mom's collaborator in her well-meant if unintentionally hilarious plot to "reach the world for Jesus." Converting Jews was part of that program.

I was put in touch with radically pro-Israel, anti-Arab, far-right, Islam-bashing neoconservatives. This "bridge-building," in turn, introduced me to Norman Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary magazine, who was using the Republican Party (and/or being used by it) to advance his single issue -- support for the State of Israel -- just as I was doing the same for my single issue -- abortion.

Commentary had emerged in the 1970s as the neoconservatives' flagship publication. I regularly reprinted some of their articles as books or as essays in my Evangelical newspaper. And when my mother raised $50,000 from her pal in Dallas, multimillionaire Mary Crowley, (founder of Home Interiors and Gifts, Inc.), to launch Mom's new book, Forever Music (1986), Podhoretz lent his support.

Mom used Crowley's money to rent Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center and hire the Guarneri Quartet. Mom's "best friends" -- about 500 of them -- showed up for the gala concert, including Podhoretz and his wife Midge Decter and their entourage. (I had invited them.)

I remember smiling at the bemused expressions on the faces of the members of the quartet while they sipped drinks at the reception after the concert and tried to figure out how the hell these two groups could possibly occupy the same space: the cream of the New York neoconservative Zionist intellectuals and a passel of mink-draped, diamond-crusted Southern Baptist Texans asking everyone if they had a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ."

I changed my mind about being an Evangelical -- I'm one no longer -- and also about my politics. I moved from far right to moderate liberal. I wrote a book to explain why: Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. I no longer ride around "saving" America for God nor am I a regular on religious TV and radio these days.

Most American Evangelicals believe that to "be a Christian" means that you must give your full support to the extremist elements in the State of Israel, the sorts of chosen people busily constructing a new type of apartheid in the Promised Land. Many Evangelicals believe that God loves some people lots more than others and that He loves Jews most of all.

For instance, John Hagee, mega-church pastor and founder of Christians United for Israel, said: "For 25 almost 26 years now, I have been pounding the Evangelical community over television. The Bible is a very pro-Israel book. If a Christian admits 'I believe the Bible', I can make him a pro-Israel supporter or they will have to denounce their faith. So I have Christians over a barrel you might say."

But it's more complex than simply having a soft spot for Jews trying to populate "Judea and Samaria" (as they like to call land stolen from Arabs after the Six Day War of 1967). You see, to Us Real Christians, Real Jews were the Good Jews in the Old Testament, and after Jesus arrived (thus "fulfilling the prophecies" of the Old Testament) they were the Jews who accepted the Messiah.

Don't get me wrong: Us Real Jews weren't anti-Semites just because we said that the actual Jews killed Jesus. Like Hagee and company, we loved Jews-Born-That-Way-Who-Stayed-That-Way, even if (according to our Bible and/or Mel Gibson) their great, great grandparents had -- in a rather imprudent moment -- killed God.

We didn't blame them for killing God. If you're predestined to fulfill a prophecy you're going to do it. And so we didn't blame the modern State of Israel's government for its brutality either. They too were merely "fulfilling prophecy."

Mom often said that the "miraculous return of the Jews to Israel is just one more thing that proves the Bible is true." That would not have happened if the Jews hadn't killed Jesus, been exiled, suffered the Holocaust -- "just what was needed to turn Zionism into a mainstream movement in order to fulfill prophecy" as Dad noted -- and returned to Israel, in order to pave the way for the return of Christ.

The Jews may have thought their return to Palestine was all about them. Of course Us Real Christians knew better, it was all about Us.

The American Evangelicals, following the Puritan's conceit of their special "call," cling to the concept of American exceptionalism, some sort of a setting apart to be special and lead the world to a better place. In other words, we're better than other people and must show the way, or at least force it on others through our non-stop wars, sort of like the Jews of the Old Testament.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. his books include Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Great New Film on Christian Zionism

Here's my latest on Christian Zionism. Click HERE to read on Huffington Post or read below.

The State of Israel just announced a decision (New York Times, Tuesday Nov 7, 2010) to advance the approval of some 1,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem during a sensitive time in the peace negotiations with the Palestinians. What they didn't mention is that several American Christian Zionist groups have been raising money to help build new illegal settlements on occupied land for years.

The so-called Jewish lobby is supposed to be so powerful that no American president can act without their approval. This is an anti-Semitic slur, a kind of Americanized "lite" version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a forged anti-Semitic screed purporting to describe a Jewish plan to achieve global domination). For one thing most Jewish-Americans aren't part of this lobby, but rather are ordinary American citizens who are just as skeptical of right-wing Jewish Zionist fundamentalist Israelis as other Americans are -- perhaps more so, because they know more about them.

The truth is that when it comes to pandering to powerful religious/ethnic "blocs" in the US the biggest game in town is the across the board bowing to the white Evangelical "base" of the Republican Party. That's the bloc of voters that adds up to real numbers, as high as a third of the American voting population.

It's the Christian Zionists who have driven American foreign policy over a cliff. (I'm speaking here as the proud father of a Marine, who was sent to war in the Middle East, again and again.) Christian Zionists continuously jeopardize our future by putting the promotion of harebrained interpretations of biblical "prophecy" ahead of the well being of both Israel and the US.

To the Christian Zionists "defending Israel" is just a handy pretext for indulging their obsession: egging on, even "helping" the fulfillment of "biblical prophecies" about the "return of Christ." But their worst sin isn't just embracing dumb "theology" but that they have enabled a nefarious group of losers to irreparably harm America and contribute to the needless killing of our men and women in uniform worldwide: the neoconservatives.

To the neoconservatives "defending Israel" is just a handy pretext for upholding the myth of "American exceptionalism" for profit and nationalistic "glory," of the kind that was supposed to have gone out of fashion when hubris and stupidity got half the young male population of Europe killed in World War One.

America needlessly went to war in Iraq because neoconservative war mongers -- who laugh at the "those rubes" as they think of earnest Evangelical Christian Zionists, and whose own sons and daughters seem notably absent from our armed services -- used the religious passion and dedication of conservative Evangelicals to provide political means and cover for the neoconservatives' commitment to America's military dominance of the world. In other words the Evangelicals provided the votes to put foolish war mongers like George W Bush in power.

With "friends" like the Christian Zionists and the neoconservatives Israel, America, our men and women in uniform, the Palestinians and the rest of humanity need no enemies. This is made poignantly clear by a new film, With God On Our Side.

With God On Our Side is the most powerful, humane and compassionate documentary exposé of the Christian Zionist movement, and the impact of their ideology on the lives they have touched (and ruined), ever made. It is well crafted, subtle and fair. And -- notable in the "when hell freezes over" department -- it was directed and produced by... an American Evangelical.

Porter Speakman Jr. (director and producer) was raised by an Evangelical minister. Speakman grew up in a Charlotte, North Carolina in an evangelical (Pentecostal) home. These days he attends a small conservative Anglican church where he lives in Colorado Springs, "the Evangelical capitol of the world," as some wags call the blighted town where James Dobson runs his Evangelical "Focus On The Family" empire.

The film traces Speakman's change of heart from Christian Zionist to moderate peace maker. Speakman's fictional alter ego -- the young actor who narrates the movie -- recreates Speakman's ethical, spiritual and political journey. His dramatized journey links the interviews and historical material that provide the facts which correct the absurd lies told by the Christian Zionists not to mention their apocalyptic fantasies.

I understand where Speakman is coming from. I too look at these issues from an inside perspective. My late father, Francis Schaeffer, was a key Evangelical founder and leader of the American Religious Right. I grew up in a home where the "return of the Jews to Israel" was seen as "proof" of "God fulfilling prophecy" in order to expedite the return of Christ. I changed my mind and I changed my politics. I explain why I quit the evangelical movement in my book CRAZY FOR GOD--How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back. I no longer believe that any "prophecy" is being fulfilled in Israel or anywhere else. I don't believe anyone is "chosen." If there is a God then God either loves all people or none.

With God On Our Side is a pointed contradiction of most American Evangelicals who still believe that to "be a Christian" means that you must give your full support to the extremist elements in the State of Israel. They believe that God loves some people lots more than others. In fact the logic of their actions points to their hatred of the Palestinians, even hatred of Christian Palestinians, let alone of "those Muslims."

For instance John Hagee, mega church pastor and founder of Christians United for Israel has said: "For twenty five almost twenty six years now, I have been pounding the Evangelical community over television. The Bible is a very pro-Israel book. If a Christian admits 'I believe the Bible', I can make him a pro-Israel supporter or they will have to denounce their faith. So I have Christians over a barrel you might say."

Few within the Christian Evangelical community have dared to publicly question Haggee's type of approach. Speakman's film presents an authentically Christian and Evangelical alternative perspective to the warmonger Far Right's views. As such this film is literally the most important document of its kind -- because it was made by an insider. It is the key to understanding why Evangelicals have become the permanent party of war in the name of "helping Israel."

Note: If we go to war with Iran you'll know why after watching this film. Hint: it won't be to protect American interests.

With God On Our Side does more than just present another Evangelical perspective -- it presents an opportunity for Christians of all denominations as well as Jews, Muslims, atheists and agnostics -- whomever -- to engage for peace as vigorously as the Christian Zionists root for war.

Speakman allows everyone he interviews to express themselves, share what they believe and then he responds with story, facts and context. With God On Our Side contains interviews with the leading Christian Zionists including John Hagee and Malcolm Hedding (of the so-called International Christian Embassy Jerusalem).

The film shows that one of the problems with the Christian Zionist rhetoric is it is never put into context. Hagee and his warmongering ilk say whatever they want and get an "Amen" -- and a check -- from those who believe the same. But when you show the implications of their beliefs and actions, it becomes clear that this is not the way of Jesus.

Those like Hagee and Hedding are deeply disconnected from the pain and suffering amongst the Palestinian people and they abuse the Bible to justify such an approach with blatant disregard for the Bible's core teaching for both Jews and Christians -- love of neighbor.

The Christian Zionists are also deeply disconnected from the American military family that, for generations now, has been the spear point not of American foreign policy but of Evangelical fantasies about making the world "safe" for the return of Christ by "helping" along "biblical prophecy" by "standing up for Israel." This so-called standing up has mired America in perpetual war. And as if that's not enough their very raison d'être is an insult to any actual God (if there is such a thing). I mean how could God be stupider than his frail human creatures? And what could be stupider than tying land acquisition to spirituality, as if the God Of The Universe is addicted to enforcing borders established by British colonialists and/or some rather nasty genocidal warring Bronze Age tribes?!

With God On Our Side soberly and quietly challenges the thought that God is only "with" one ethnic or religious group. When I interviewed Speakman for this article he said, "When you think God is on your side everything is justified. Radical Muslims justify suicide bombings, Radical Jews justify ethnic cleansing and radical Christians justify modern-day crusades."

Speakman has toured the US (mostly in churches) twice with the movie -- quite incredibly mostly ignored by the mainstream media so far -- and is now in the UK and Ireland to answer his (often insanely hostile Evangelical) critics. "What we are seeing is that there are many people who are disturbed that they have not heard this side of the story before," says Speakman. "What is encouraging is that many people who watch our movie then want to learn more and get involved to make a positive change, for both Palestinians and Jews."

Note to the media: Pay attention to this film. It's a newsworthy story. Here's your hook -- "Evangelical Turns Against Own 'Side' and Works For Peace..."

Note to the cable news shows: Interview Speakman, he's articulate.

Note to anyone reading this review: Buy the DVD, watch it and then share it, you owe it to yourself, children and country.

Note to non-Evangelicals: Speakman takes the time to answer questions about bizarre "covenant theology" in a way that's directed at Evangelicals. Watch anyway, you need to understand the preoccupations, concerns and off-the-wall ugly delusion gripping of the vast Evangelical public, even if the archaic questions they care about -- for instance, "are the Jews still the chosen people or does this idea only apply to us Bible-believing Christians now?" -- might seem nonsensical to you.

If you want peace in the Middle East then learn why the Christian Zionists who say they love Jews love Jews the way tigers "love" lambs. Their "standing up for Israel" is not helping the Jews, Arabs and Palestinians who live there. It's only encouraging the militant hardliners -- like the ones who just stuck it to the rest of us with their 1000 new insults to peace they call "housing" -- to commit suicide, and maybe take the rest of us with them.

Speakman has gone a long way to proving that sometimes progressives' smug dismissal of "all those Evangelicals" as nutty is as unfair as it is inaccurate. With his courage (the aptly named) Speakman proves that truth may sometimes be spoken by the most unexpected people.

After watching With God On Our Side I have a renewed hope for the Evangelicals in America. And maybe peace in Palestine and Israel is possible. This film can help that happen by signaling the beginning of the end of the largely unchallenged influence of Christian Zionism.

Film Website: WithGodOnOurSide.com

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back


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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bad Theology and Crazy Politics (Why the Republicans Won)

One reason the Republicans won on Tuesday is because many of their supporters have already given up on this world and are waiting for the next. I know, I used to be one of them.

Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series of sixteen novels (so far) represents everything that is most deranged about religion. It also is a reason and symptom of the hysteria that grips so many "conservatives" in the Republican Party. Frankly: to borrow from Jon Stewart they do believe that these are the "End Times" not just "hard times."

My late father, Francis Schaeffer, was a key founder and leader of the Religious Right. My mother Edith was also a spiritual leader, not the mere power behind her man, which she was. Mom was a formidable and adored religious figure whose books and public speaking, not to mention biblical conditioning of me, directly and indirectly shaped millions of lives and ruined quite a few too.

For a time I joined my Dad in pioneering the Evangelical anti-abortion Religious Right movement. In the 1970s and early 80s when I was in my twenties I evolved into an ambitious, "successful" religious leader/instigator in my own right.

I changed my mind for reasons I describe in my book Patience With God (just published in paperback). I no longer ride around with the likes of Mike Huckabee (who named my Dad's fundamentalist books his favorites) "saving" America for God, nor am I a regular on religious TV and radio these days.

I still see a religious connection in public policy though that I think a lot of commentators miss -- for instance, that lots of the energy behind this mid-term election came from the ghosts of the Religious Right.

The Left Behind novels have sold tens of millions of copies while spawning an "End Times" cult, or rather egging it on. Such products as Left Behind wall paper, screen savers, children's books, and video games have become part of the ubiquitous American background noise. Less innocuous symptoms include people stocking up on assault rifles and ammunition, adopting "Christ-centered" home school curricula, fearing higher education, embracing rumor as fact, and learning to love hatred for the "other," as exemplified by a revived anti-immigrant racism, the murder of doctors who do abortions, and possibly even a killing in the Holocaust Museum.

And now that the "death panel" republicans who also claimed Obama is the Antichrist are in power, maybe its time to take a look at the religious insanity that beats at the heart of their movement.

No, I am not blaming Jenkins and LaHaye's product line for murder or racism or any other evil intent or result. What I am saying is that unless you take the time to understand the End Times folks you will never "get" the mid-term election result.

Feeding the paranoid delusions of people on the fringe of the fringe contributes to a dangerous climate that may provoke violence in a few individuals. It's also one of the big reasons that the nutty fringe is now the "center." If you believe the Bible is literal and true and that this is the "End" then the crazies look sane and the sane look crazy. Welcome to the new congress.

And convincing folks that Armageddon is on the way, and all we can do is wait, pray, and protect our families from the chaos (or from the first black president) that will be the "prelude" to the "Return of Christ," is perhaps not the best recipe for political, economic, or personal stability, let alone social cohesion. Glenn Beck cashes in on this when he sells gold on TV and survivalist gear.

But this End Times cult may also not be the best philosophy on which to build American foreign policy! The momentum toward what amounts to a whole subculture seceding from the union (in order to await "The End") is irrevocably prying loose a chunk of the American population from both sanity and their fellow citizens.

Enter the "new" Tea Party candidates.

The evangelical/fundamentalists/Republican Far Right -- and hence, from the early 1980s until the election of President Obama in 2008 and now in the mid-term lashing out, the Religious Right as it informed U.S. policy through the then dominant Republican Party -- are in the grip of an apocalyptic Rapture cult centered on revenge and vindication. This End Times death wish is built on a literalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation. .

As I explain in my book Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion Revelation was the last book to be included in the New Testament. It was included as canonical only relatively late in the process after a heated dispute. The historic Churches East and West remain so suspicious of Revelation that to this day it has never been included as part of the cyclical public readings of scripture in Orthodox services. The book of Revelation is read in Roman and Anglican Churches only during Advent. But both Rome and the East were highly suspicious of the book. The West included the book in the lectionary late and sparingly. In other words, the book of the Bible that the historical Church found most problematic is the one that American Evangelicals latched on to like flies on you know what.

Given that Revelation is now being hyped as the literal -- even desired -- roadmap to Armageddon and an American End Times "future" controlled by Republican crazies who don't even believe we have a future(!), it's worth pausing to note that it's nothing more than a bizarre pastoral letter that was addressed to seven specific churches in Asia at the end of the first century by someone (maybe John or maybe not) who appears to have been far from well when he wrote it. In any case, the letter was not intended for use outside of its liturgical context, not to mention that it reads like Jesus on acid.

The Left Behind series is really just recycled evangelical/fundamentalist profit taking from scraps of "prophecy" left over from an earlier commercial effort to mine the vein of fearsome End Times gold. A book called The Late Great Planet Earth was the 1970s incarnation of this nonsense. It was written by Hal Lindsey, a "writer" who dropped by my parents' ministry several times in the 1970s.

Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth interpreted Revelation for a generation of paranoid evangelicals who were terrified of the Soviet Union and communism and were convinced that the existence of the modern State of Israel was the sign that Jesus was on the way in our lifetimes, as Lindsey claimed. According to Lindsey, Revelation was "speaking" about the Soviet Union and imminent nuclear attacks between the Soviet Union and the United States. When Mikhail Gorbachev became president of the U.S.S.R., Planet Earth groupies claimed Gorbachev was the Antichrist, citing the references in Revelation to the "mark of the beast" as proof because Gorbachev had a birthmark on his forehead!

After everything predicted in the book came to nothing, Lindsey rewrote and "updated" his "interpretations" in many sequels, in what must have been some sort of record for practicing George Orwell's idea of "doublethink" via editorial revision of ever-changing "facts." Trying to follow the prophecy party line eventually got confusing, even for the Lindsey followers, and Lindsey faded into well-deserved obscurity.

This would be amusing, if not for the lives touched by this crazy nonsense. For instance, a good friend of mine was dragged -- at age five -- to Alaska, where his parents huddled in an "End Times" commune, a place chosen to be out of the way of major cities so that when the bombs fell, his family (and some fellow "pilgrims") could await the Lord's return in safety.

My friend's life was almost destroyed by suffering through years of a cruel and bizarre lifestyle in which his family was reduced to eating their goats and bear meat hunted (with the many guns kept by the members of this particular cult) on the "mission's" garbage dump. Of course, school was not a big concern since Jesus was on the way! Discipline was harsh so that everyone could be found "pure of heart" at the Lord's imminent return. After five or six years of this, my friend's miserably duped parents dragged themselves back to a neighborhood near ours where it happened that my wife Genie and I got to know their utterly dislocated and severely damaged children, one of whom grew to become a close friend of ours.

Jenkins and LaHaye provide the ultimate revenge fantasy for the culturally left behind against the "elite." The Left Behind franchise holds out hope for the self-disenfranchised that at last soon everyone will know "we" were right and "they" were wrong. They are waiting for Jesus to do to the world what the Tea Party just did to America.

They'll know because Spaceship Jesus will come back and whisk us away, leaving everyone else to ponder just how very lost they are because they refused to say the words, "I accept Jesus as my personal savior" and join our side while there was still time! Even better: Jesus will kill all those smart-ass Democrat-voting, overeducated fags who have been mocking us!

Knowingly or unknowingly, Jenkins and LaHaye cashed in on years of evangelical/fundamentalists' imagined victimhood. I say imagined, because the born-agains had one of their very own, George W. Bush, in the White House for eight long, ruinous years and also dominated American politics for the better part of thirty years before that. Nevertheless, their sense of being a victimized minority is still very real -- and very marketable.

Now they have "won" the election, you'll see they will still cry "victim" against the "liberal elite" even when they are in charge again.

Whether they are winning politically or not, the mostly white underclass of religious fundamentalists nurture a mythology of persecution by the "other." Evangelical/fundamentalists believe that even though they are winning, somehow they lost. It's why Sarah Palin won't give interviews to the big bad "Them" in the media.

I used to be part of the self-pitying, whining, evangelical/fundamentalist chorus. I remember going on the Today Show with host Jane Pauley back in the late 1970s (or early 1980s). I debated with the head of the American Library Association about my claim that our evangelical/fundamentalist books weren't getting a fair shake from the "cultural elites." We Schaeffers were selling millions of books, but the New York Times never reviewed them. I made the point that we were being ignored by the "media elite," which was somewhat ironic, given that I had been invited to appear on Today to make that claim.

I dropped out of the evangelical/fundamentalist subculture soon after that Today appearance (years later I was back on Today in my secular writer incarnation, being interviewed about a book of mine on the military/civilian divide, but I decided not to mention that I'd been on the show about thirty years before in what seemed like either another lifetime or an out-of-body experience.)

Others carried on where I left off. The whole Republican mid term election victory was predicated on cashing in on years of Evangelical effort to sell the Right an image of being righteous outsiders.

A host of evangelical/fundamentalist Cassandras tour college campuses reinforcing their followers' perennial chip-on-the-shoulder attitude by telling fearful evangelical/fundamentalist students to hold fast against the secular onslaught. They tell their student listeners (and those students' even more worried parents) to not let "those people" -- professors, members of the Democratic Party, moderates, progressives, and such ordinary American men and women as Jews, gays, and members of the educated "elite" -- strip them of their faith. Hundreds of books by many evangelical/fundamentalist authors could be consolidated into one called How to Get Through College with Your Fundamentalist Faith Intact So You Won't Wind Up Becoming One of Them.

What just happened in this election is that the culturally left-behind hit back.

They won but will still claim they are victims of the "liberal elite." Actually they are victims of bad theology that has tutored them for generations to accept myth for fact.

It's no wonder that these folks believe lies more easily than truth. Sure the bad economy played a part in the mid-term results, but so did bad theology that has made a virtue out of being misinformed.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion now in paperback

My Latest on the Election and the Evangelicals

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The Case For Obama

Read this great article from Rolling Stone



By Tim Dickinson


The following is an article from the October 28, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.

For many progressives, the presidency of Barack Obama has been deeply disappointing. To hear some prominent lefties tell it, the New Jesus of the campaign trail has morphed into the New Judas of the Oval Office. "He loves to buckle," MSNBC host Cenk Uygur declared in a July segment called "Losing the Left." "Obama's not going to give us real change — he's going to give us pocket change and hang a 'Mission Accomplished' banner."

The catalog of perceived betrayals unfolds something like this: The liberal lion who stirred Hope, vowed Change and roared about "the fierce urgency of now" has failed to stand up to Republican obstructionists, coddled corporate interests and allowed top liberal priorities — a public option for health insurance, climate legislation, immigration reform and the union-expanding "card check" — to fizzle without a fight. The same politician who fired up the Democratic base by opposing a "dumb war" has surged 50,000 troops into Afghanistan — not to take the battle to Al Qaeda, but to prop up the corrupt and incompetent regime of Hamid Karzai. The prison at Guantánamo? Still open for business nearly a year after it was to have been shuttered. Uglier still: Obama has asserted the authority to assassinate American terror suspects abroad and has tried to block court challenges of that authority by invoking "state secrets."

On the economic front, Obama has surrounded himself with the same free marketeers who led Bill Clinton's calamitous deregulation of big banks, restoring Wall Street to obscene profits even as one American in seven has been engulfed by a rising tide of poverty. Eric Alterman of The Nation distilled the left's lament this summer, arguing that Obama may have "fooled gullible progressives into believing he was a left-liberal partisan, when in fact he is much closer to a conservative corporate shill." The cover of The Obama Syndrome, a new jeremiad by the political commentator Tariq Ali, even gives the progressive resentment a lurid illustration: Obama's face is shown flaking away like a cheap plaster mask to reveal the chuckling visage of George W. Bush.

But such selective indictments — legitimate and troubling in many of their particulars — grossly distort the sweep of the 44th presidency. It's one thing to call the president on his shit. It's quite another to paint his entire presidency as shit — even if Joe Biden and Robert Gibbs are losing their shit, accusing you of being a "whining" member of the "professional left."

From the outset, it was inevitable that Obama's transcendent campaign would give way to an earthbound presidency — one constrained by two wars, an economy in free fall and an opposition party bent on obstruction at any price. "Expectations were so sky-high for him that they were impossible to fulfill," says presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. "Obama's partly to blame for this: People were expecting a progressive revolution. What the president has delivered instead is gritty, nuts-and-bolts, political legislative work — and it's been rough."

During his campaign, skeptics warned that Barack Obama was nothing but a "beautiful loser," a progressive purist whose uncompromising idealism would derail his program for change. But as president, Obama has proved to be just the opposite — an ugly winner. Over and over, he has shown himself willing to strike unpalatable political bargains to secure progress, even at the cost of alienating his core supporters. Single-payer health care? For Obama, it was a nonstarter. The public option? A praiseworthy bargaining chip in the push for reform.

This bloodless, if effective, approach to governance has created a perilous disconnect: By any rational measure, Obama is the most accomplished and progressive president in decades, yet the only Americans fired up by the changes he has delivered are Republicans and Tea Partiers hellbent on reversing them. Heading into the November elections, Obama's approval ratings are mired in the mid-40s, and polls reflect a stark enthusiasm gap: Half of all Republicans are "very" excited about voting this fall, compared to just a quarter of Democrats. "Republicans have succeeded in making even the president's victories look distasteful, messy — and seem like bad policy steps or defeats," says Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "Many on the left have expressed nothing but anger, frustration and disappointment."

But if the passions of Obama's base have been deflated by the compromises he made to secure historic gains like the Recovery Act, health care reform and Wall Street regulation, that gloom cannot obscure the essential point: This president has delivered more sweeping, progressive change in 20 months than the previous two Democratic administrations did in 12 years. "When you look at what will last in history," historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells Rolling Stone, "Obama has more notches on the presidential belt."

In fact, when the history of this administration is written, Obama's opening act is likely to be judged as more impressive than any president's — Democrat or Republican — since the mid-1960s. "If you're looking at the first-two-year legislative record," says Ornstein, "you really don't have any rivals since Lyndon Johnson — and that includes Ronald Reagan."

Less than halfway through his first term, Obama has compiled a remarkable track record. As president, he has rewritten America's social contract to make health care accessible for all citizens. He has brought 100,000 troops home from war and forged a once-unthinkable consensus around the endgame for the Bush administration's $3 trillion blunder in Iraq. He has secured sweeping financial reforms that elevate the rights of consumers over Wall Street bankers and give regulators powerful new tools to prevent another collapse. And most important of all, he has achieved all of this while moving boldly to ward off another Great Depression and put the country back on a halting path to recovery.

Along the way, Obama delivered record tax cuts to the middle class and slashed nearly $200 billion in corporate welfare — reinvesting that money to make college more accessible and Medicare more solvent. He single-handedly prevented the collapse of the Big Three automakers — saving more than 1 million jobs — and brought Big Tobacco, at last, under the yoke of federal regulation. Even in the face of congressional intransigence on climate change, he has fought to constrain carbon pollution by executive fiat and to invest $200 billion in clean energy — an initiative bigger than John F. Kennedy's moonshot and one that's on track to double America's capacity to generate renewable energy by the end of Obama's first term.

On the social front, he has improved pay parity for women and hate-crime protections for gays and lesbians. He has brought a measure of sanity to the drug war, reducing the sentencing disparity for crack cocaine while granting states wide latitude to experiment with marijuana laws. And he has installed two young, female justices on the Supreme Court, creating what Brinkley calls "an Obama imprint on the court for generations."

What's even more impressive about Obama's accomplishments, historians say, is the fractious political coalition he had to marshal to victory. "He didn't have the majority that LBJ had," says Goodwin. Indeed, Johnson could count on 68 Democratic senators to pass Medicare, Medicaid and the Voting Rights Act. For his part, Franklin Roosevelt had the backing of 69 Senate Democrats when he passed Social Security in 1935. At its zenith, Obama's governing coalition in the Senate comprised 57 Democrats, a socialist, a Republican turncoat — and Joe Lieberman.

In his quest for progress, Obama has also had to maneuver against an unrelenting head wind from the "Party of No" and its billionaire backers. "Obama is harassed as well as opposed," says Princeton historian Sean Wilentz. "The crazy Republican right is now unfettered. You've got a Senate with no adult leadership. And Obama's up against Rupert Murdoch, Dick Armey, the Koch brothers and the rest of the professional right." Compared to the opposition faced by the most transformative Democratic presidents, adds Wilentz, "it's a wholly different scale."

Despite such obstacles, Obama has succeeded in forging a progressive legacy that, anchored by health care reform, puts him "into the same conversation with FDR and LBJ," says Brinkley, "though those two accomplished more." Goodwin, herself a former Johnson aide, likens the thrust of Obama's social agenda to LBJ's historic package of measures known as the Great Society. "What is comparable," she says, "is the idea of using government to expand social and economic justice. That's what the health care bill is about. That's what Obama tried to do with the financial reforms. That's what he's doing with education. The Great Society was about using the collective energies of the nation to make life better for more people — and that's what Obama has tried to do."

The historic progress that Obama has made is evident in eight key areas:

Any discussion of Barack Obama's performance as president starts — and frequently ends — with one number: 9.6 percent. That brutal, stagnant unemployment figure cries out "failure."

But contemplate for a moment the abyss that Obama's leadership steered us away from — where we would be today if laissez-faire Republican radicals had succeeded in allowing the economic collapse to take its course. According to a study by economists from Princeton and Moody's, more than 16 million jobs would have been lost without the interventions of TARP, the Recovery Act and the Federal Reserve — double the damage actually suffered. Unemployment would have spiked to 16.5 percent, and next year's federal deficit would have more than doubled, to $2.6 trillion. "With outright deflation in prices and wages," the study concludes, "this dark scenario constitutes a 1930s-like depression."

Obama played a pivotal role in the economic interventions that staved off disaster. He renominated Ben Bernanke as head of the Federal Reserve, backing the central bank's use of record-low interest rates to prop up the banking system. He demanded unprecedented transparency of both the Fed and Wall Street in administering "stress tests" that restored the confidence of panicked investors, allowing "zombie banks" to return to the living without resorting to nationalization. Thanks to such stewardship, the Treasury now estimates, the price tag for the TARP bailout has dropped from $700 billion (the equivalent of the Pentagon's annual budget) to $29 billion (about one-fourth the spending on veterans). Above all, the president drove the passage of the Recovery Act, which the Princeton-Moody's study concludes has created nearly 2.7 million jobs.

"The stimulus did what it was supposed to do," says Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody's and a former adviser to John McCain. "It ended the Great Recession and it jump-started a recovery."

Republican critics have blasted the Recovery Act as a failure because it did not hold unemployment below eight percent, as the president's economic advisers had promised. And liberal economists accused Obama of failing to fight hard enough to enact a bigger stimulus that would have saved more jobs. But since the original stimulus squeaked through, the president has won a series of stand-alone measures — including three extensions of unemployment benefits, the Cash for Clunkers program, a second round of aid for states and a package of loans and tax cuts for small businesses — that have infused another $170 billion into the economy. The Recovery Act itself, meanwhile, has grown from $787 billion to $814 billion, thanks to provisions that were smartly pegged to metrics like unemployment.

In fact, should Obama secure passage of two new programs he has proposed — $50 billion in infrastructure spending and $200 billion in tax breaks for investments in new equipment — he will have surpassed the $1 trillion stimulus that many liberal economists believed from the beginning was necessary. "As the need became more obvious to people, we were able to take additional steps to accelerate progress," Obama senior adviser David Axelrod tells Rolling Stone. The president, in effect, has achieved through patience and pragmatism what he was unlikely to have won through open political warfare.

Evaluation of the Recovery Act tends to be big-picture and binary. Has the stimulus put us on the path to recovery — yes or no? But the stimulus was far more than macroeconomic medicine. As conceived by the White House, the Recovery Act was not only intended to address the economic catastrophe at hand, it was simultaneously designed to make investments critical to reviving the middle class and improving America's long-term competitiveness.

"This wasn't a stimulus bill," says Van Jones, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who served as Obama's green-jobs czar. "A stimulus is what you do when you think you've got a short, V-shaped problem in the economy and you want to deliver a jolt to reset to business as usual. A recovery program is what you need when business as usual is no longer possible."

To the extent that Obama has attempted to brand his presidential project in the way that FDR did with the New Deal or LBJ did with his Great Society, he has talked about a "New Foundation." And the Recovery Act was designed to lay the cornerstones. The law included the most progressive middle-class tax cut ever enacted — delivering benefits to 95 percent of working families. It invested $94 billion in clean energy and $100 billion in education — unprecedented levels of commitment in both areas. It also devoted $128 billion to health care and $70 billion to mending America's safety net — including direct cash payments to the elderly, the disabled and impoverished parents, as well as billions invested in low-income housing, food stamps and child care.

"If you passed each of those as separate pieces of legislation," says Ornstein, of the American Enterprise Institute, "that in and of itself would make for a very significant record of accomplishment." Seen through this prism, the stimulus alone represents a strikingly progressive presidential legacy — rivaling the biggest reforms of the Clinton presidency. And it passed on Obama's 24th day in office.

The lefty caricature of Obama as a timorous corporate lackey unwilling to take bold action on behalf of average Americans bears little relation to the president who made a $60 billion bet on the future of the U.S. auto industry — and hit the jackpot.

From the start, the prospect of recycling TARP funds to save GM and Chrysler from liquidation was wildly unpopular — a fact that Obama's top political counselors, warning against the intervention, vigorously impressed upon him at the time. But if action was politically risky, inaction was economically intolerable: Had the administration allowed GM and Chrysler to go under, it would have triggered a collapse of parts suppliers and dealerships nationwide, creating such collateral damage that even Ford would likely have gone belly up. The collapse would also have led to the loss of more than 1 million jobs, primarily in the devastated economies of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, where unemployment is among the highest in the country.

After pushing his team to lay out a plan that would not simply bail out the auto industry with condition-free cash, as Bush had done, but to use the government's leverage over automakers to set them on a more competitive course, Obama literally went for broke. Despite cries of "socialism" and "Government Motors," the administration bought a 61 percent stake in GM, ousted its chief executive, forced both bondholders and UAW members to make concessions and steered the company through bankruptcy in record time. Simultaneously, the administration invested $8 billion in Chrysler — a dowry, of sorts, to secure the company's shotgun marriage to Italian automaker Fiat.

It's difficult to overstate how effective and efficient the government's intervention has been. By risking $60 billion, Obama saved a third as many jobs as the entire stimulus package, which cost 13 times more. In fact, the auto industry has not only survived, it has roared back to life. GM is profitable and preparing to go public in an IPO that could allow the government to recoup its investment. Ford is prospering, edging out Japanese rivals for quality. Even Chrysler is expanding its market share. "The bailout of the auto industry protected against absolute devastation in the economies of the Midwest," says Ornstein. "And it is now turning out to be a huge financial boon for taxpayers."

Obama's crowning legislative achievement is health care reform. And true to Joe Biden's pithy and profane assessment, it's a Big Fucking Deal. "All progressives since Theodore Roosevelt wanted it, all Democrats since Harry Truman fought for it, and only Barack Obama got it," says Brinkley. "This is his huge accomplishment."

Obama's $1 trillion reform is neither simple nor elegant. But over the next decade, it will extend health coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans — the equivalent of New York and Illinois combined — by expanding eligibility for Medicaid and subsidizing insurance for low- and middle-income citizens. By the end of this decade, 95 percent of Americans will have health insurance.

The law also establishes a new bill of rights for patients: Starting in 2014, insurance giants will be banned from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and from imposing annual caps on benefit payouts. Other rights have already kicked in. As of September, insurance companies can no longer arbitrarily revoke coverage for those who get sick. Children with existing illnesses can no longer be denied insurance. Younger Americans can stay on their parents' policies until they're 26. And 1 million elderly citizens are receiving checks for $250 to fill the gap in Medicare's coverage of prescription drugs. Most striking of all, the law accomplishes all this while extending the solvency of Medicare by a dozen years and cutting the deficit by $143 billion over the next decade.

Historians give Obama high marks for finding a way to push through health care reform even after the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy's former Senate seat in Massachusetts. "One of the most extraordinary moments of this presidency was the decision to go for broke on health care after Scott Brown," says Goodwin. "Instead of deciding to pull back — we'll get half a loaf or whatever — Obama was willing to take a risk at that point. They could have lost that whole thing, and it would have been devastating for his presidency. Somehow, even though we saw the ugly process, it did work in the end."

With his victory on health care, Obama defeated the anti-government Republicans who sought to destroy him politically and created a program that will benefit Americans for decades to come. But the victory cost him dearly among some progressives — most prominently Jane Hamsher, the activist ringleader of Firedoglake — who continue to spit on the law for its lack of a government-administered alternative to private insurance. "Liberals and conservatives hate the health care bill for the same reason," Hamsher tweeted. "It sucks."

The administration remains unapologetic. "We couldn't have gotten there with the public option," says Axelrod. "The choice was between letting the thing fail or taking a huge leap forward for everyone who will benefit from this now and for generations to come. It wasn't a hard choice to make."

The universal health care that Obama won may not contain a public alternative to for-profit insurance, but the president did succeed in dismantling a major corporate gravy train. The health care bill is paid for, in part, by cutting $136 billion paid out under Medicare Advantage — a Bush-era boondoggle under which private insurers were larded with subsidies for the dubious service of inserting themselves as middlemen between patients and government-run Medicare.

At the same time, Obama also used the health care bill to end corporate welfare in an entirely different arena: student lending. For decades, megabanks like Sallie Mae have reaped billions by doing the paperwork on loans to college students — even though Uncle Sam sets the rates and assumes virtually all the risk. The president's Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which piggybacked to victory as an add-on to health care, kicked private banks out of the federal lending game. The unalloyed victory over corporate lobbyists will cut lending costs by more than $60 billion over the next decade — $36 billion of which is being reinvested to expand federal grants for low-income and middle-class students. The law also makes unprecedented investments in historically black schools and community colleges, caps student-loan repayment at 10 percent of a borrower's income and pays for a program to forgive the debts of students who make their careers in public service.

"We've stopped this incredibly wasteful practice where there was effectively no benefit for taxpayers, and we were able to recycle that for families and students," says Rep. George Miller, who spearheaded the reform in the House. "We've been fighting for this since the Clinton administration — and Obama had the courage to do it straight up."

Prescient opposition to the Iraq War was the fuel that rocketed Barack Obama past Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. As president, Obama has stuck to the timetable he laid out, withdrawing nearly 100,000 troops from Iraq — including the last combat brigade, which came home in August. The move meant quietly overruling his top general on the ground, Ray Odierno, who wanted to delay withdrawal.

"Obama gets credit for checking off that box," says Steven Clemons, director of American strategy at the New America Foundation. "Bringing Iraq to a resolution like this is a very big deal." Although 50,000 troops remain — ostensibly in an advisory and training capacity — they too have a date certain for withdrawal: December 31st, 2011.

While Obama has yet to put an end to the fighting in Afghanistan — a war that has now dragged on longer than Vietnam — he has managed to boost America's standing in the rest of the world. Despite the continuing loss of NATO troops, U.S. approval ratings in western Europe have soared into the 60s and 70s — far higher than during the unilateralism of the Bush era. U.S. approval is up more than 10 points in Poland and Russia, 20 points in China, and 30 points in Indonesia, France and Germany. Overall, global confidence in America's leadership has leaped from 21 percent in 2007 to 64 percent today.

The president himself has shown a deft diplomatic touch: He has thawed icy relations with Russia and negotiated historic cuts in nuclear arms, re-establishing American leadership and credibility on nuclear nonproliferation. He has also convinced Security Council veto-holders Russia and China to back new sanctions to punish Iran's nuclear ambitions — a degree of international cooperation that was unthinkable during the Bush years.

"President Obama has already repaired much of the damage wrought during the eight years of the Bush administration," former secretary of state Madeleine Albright observed in September. "He has restored America's reputation on the world stage."

Obama has taken heat from progressive critics — much of it deserved — over the weakest aspects of his effort to reform Wall Street. It remains unclear whether the new law — the most sweeping overhaul of financial regulations since the Great Depression — will do enough to rein in high-risk trading and end the era of Too Big to Fail. But the law does take bold steps to avoid a repeat of the current meltdown. The Federal Reserve and the FDIC now have the power to seize and dismantle firms like AIG and Lehman Brothers and to force the financial industry to pony up the costs of their liquidation. Banks can no longer gamble federally insured deposits on high-risk investments, and they are required to risk a portion of their own assets in the dubious investments they sell — a move designed to prevent firms like Goldman Sachs from profiting off of "shitty deals."

But the most significant facet of the legislation is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For the first time, a single regulatory authority will have the power to protect consumers from bad loans and credit deals, the same way the FDA protects patients from dangerous drugs. Armed with an annual budget of $500 million — exempt from congressional cost- cutting — the agency will police everything from payday loans to jumbo mortgages.

For a taste of the kind of regulations the consumer bureau is likely to deliver, look no further than your credit-card bill. Another measure pushed by Obama — the Credit CARD Act — has already forced Visa, MasterCard and American Express to include a box on your statement spelling out how long it will take to pay off your debt making only the minimum payment. It also bans credit-card companies from jacking up your rate without warning, and places stiff restrictions on luring college kids into mountains of debt with easy credit. Those are exactly the sort of reforms the new consumer agency will have the authority to make on its own, without an act of Congress.

The consumer bureau matters not simply to individual borrowers but to the overall stability of the financial system. "Predatory lending played a very big role in the collapse of the financial system," says Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist. The champion and acting head of the bureau, Elizabeth Warren, put it even more bluntly to Rolling Stone earlier this year: "Our financial crisis started one lousy mortgage at a time, one family who got fooled, tricked or cheated at a time," she said. "If nobody can build mortgage-backed securities on trillions of dollars of unpayable instruments, there's a lot less risk in the overall system."

Obama's failure to curb global warming by passing a comprehensive climate bill stands as his most glaring legislative defeat. But the absence of a cap on carbon pollution has been offset in large part by the enormous strides Obama has made toward a cleaner, lower-carbon economy. With the Recovery Act, the president effectively launched what greens have long agitated for: an Apollo-like moonshot on clean energy.

Consider that the stimulus targeted $94 billion for clean energy — making unprecedented investments in everything from weatherizing federal buildings to building solar thermal plants in the Mojave. Roughly half of the money involves direct federal spending. But the administration structured the other half — $46 billion — as matching funds and loan guarantees that are realized only when the private sector steps up with capital of its own. According to a report from the president's Council of Economic Advisers, every dollar of federal co-investment is attracting more than $2 in private capital. Add it all up, and the Recovery Act is driving more than $200 billion in public and private investment in clean energy — $20 billion more than the Apollo program would have cost in today's dollars.

"Everybody calls Obama the first black president," says Jones, the former green-jobs czar. "But if you were from Mars, and couldn't see race, you'd call him the first green president. That's what distinguishes him on a policy level from every preceding president: this incredible commitment he's made to repowering America in a clean way."

What is the country getting for this moonshot? The investment is on track to double the nation's renewable-energy generating capacity by 2012 — bringing enough clean energy online to power New York around the clock. It will also double the nation's manufacturing capacity for wind turbines and solar panels, driving down the cost of clean energy so it can compete with fossil fuels — even if Congress doesn't pass a carbon cap.

The president has also moved aggressively on other fronts to reduce carbon pollution. Cash for Clunkers retired nearly 700,000 gas guzzlers and replaced them with cars that, on average, are 58 percent more fuel-efficient. In the first-ever CO2 restrictions imposed on cars and light trucks, automakers are now required to boost fuel standards high enough to save nearly 2 billion barrels of oil and to reduce carbon emissions by 21 percent over the next two decades. In January, the EPA is expected to do what Congress refuses to: set limits on carbon emissions for large industrial polluters like coal plants and cement factories. And the president has already put America's biggest greenhouse polluter on a carbon diet: By executive order, all federal agencies are now required to reduce their carbon pollution by 28 percent in the next decade. That act alone is enough to scrub 101 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere — as much climate-heating pollution as Ireland and Hungary generate combined.

"We have running room to push this forward," says Axelrod. "We can hit the targets we want to hit in terms of reducing emissions, while hopefully spurring a whole lot of economic activity around these new technologies. We're going to keep pushing on that door."

Taken together, Barack Obama's achievements are not only historic in their sweep but unabashedly liberal. By contrast, President Clinton's top legislative victories — NAFTA and welfare reform — catered to the right wing's faith in free markets and its loathing of big government. "When you add them all together, it's clear that Obama's accomplishments have been underrated," says Brinkley. "Saving the auto industry, health care, getting out of Iraq — these are big things for the progressive movement."

But as effective as Obama has been at implementing progressive policy, he has been lousy at capitalizing on those victories politically. Much of his activist base can't seem to get over the compromises he made to win such historic reforms, and average Americans are largely clueless about the key achievements of his presidency. Polls show that only 12 percent of Americans realize that Obama cut their taxes; indeed, twice that number thought the president had raised them. Just 29 percent understand that the stimulus boosted the economy, and 81 percent believe that the deficit-slashing health care reform will actually increase the deficit.

"You have this conundrum," says Wilentz, the Princeton historian. "Obama has an admirable record of accomplishment, but the political dynamics are all moving the other way. How do you explain that?"

Pressed on this disconnect, Axelrod argues that the president has been too busy with governance to get caught up in the scrum of politics. "We're focused on trying to build a better country for the future," he says. "The president's attitude is that the politics will ultimately take care of itself."

But heading into November, it appears that the president's high-minded and seemingly sincere disdain for politics could prove the undoing of what he has fought so hard to accomplish. Yes, he has succeeded in moving the Senate to action — but along the way he has fumbled the support of his own electorate. Progressive activists in the party remain convinced that Obama could have won even grander victories, if only he had been willing to fight harder and compromise less. Having deeply invested in the image Obama sold them as a candidate — a new breed of politician, determined to bring radical transparency to Washington and open up government to average Americans — they have experienced his reliance on backroom negotiations as nothing short of a personal betrayal. And instead of working to soothe disgruntled supporters, Obama and his inner circle have flamed the discontent by telling liberal critics to "stop whining" and "buck up."

"It's somewhat inexplicable why his record hasn't been communicated better, particularly the health care bill," says Goodwin. "That's the responsibility of the president — and we thought of him as such a good communicator." The mishandling of the politics of health care reform, adds Wilentz, has cost Obama dearly. "Where was the moment?" he says. "There should have been goose bumps: health care! But it didn't happen. What should have been a crescendo was a diminuendo. You have this great accomplishment and everybody feels terrible — because of the politics."

Even in the aftermath of the law's passage, Obama did not use his legendary political gifts to help voters look past the ugly tactics and appreciate the historic gains that had been accomplished. Nor did he seek out a political salve — say, an immediate suspension of Don't Ask, Don't Tell — to ease their discontent. As a result, instead of heading into the midterm elections with popular support for his historic victories, Obama and his fellow Democrats have been forced to retreat into a much-diminished argument: You may not like us, but the Republicans are way worse. "Folks, wake up!" Obama hollered at a recent fundraiser in Philadelphia. "This is not some academic exercise. Don't compare us to the Almighty — compare us to the alternative."

In an hour-long interview with Rolling Stone, Axelrod struck a conciliatory tone. What Obama has delivered as president, he concedes, has fallen short of the expectations Obama inspired as a candidate. "I understand why there's this dissonance out there," Axelrod says. "But Democrats don't have the luxury of lamenting the fact that we've only gotten 70 to 80 percent of what we wanted done. Because that 70 to 80 percent is at risk."

That much, at least, is undeniable. In their Pledge to America, the Republicans have vowed to roll back health care reform and block any unspent stimulus funds. Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, has promised to gut the consumer protections of Wall Street reform. Armed with subpoena power, Republicans could soon dog the administration with ginned-up scandals and kangaroo-court drama, even as the party tries to shut down the government under House Speaker John Boehner.

"There's so much at stake here," Axelrod says, almost pleading. "And we ought to fight like hell — because what's on the other side is a retrograde disaster."

This is an article from the October 28, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.