02-19-2017  8:50 am      •     

Imagine going to the dentist with an aching tooth, and going through the pain of having it diagnosed and pulled — only to discover the dentist pulled the wrong tooth. Not only have you suffered for nothing, you've still got to operate on the real problem.
Democrats seem about to put themselves through this agony. Pundits and politicians tell Democrats that they have a "values" problem — that people of faith vote against them in large numbers because the Democratic party is seen as secular, or as anti-Christian or as straying from mainstream values.
Poppycock. Democrats didn't lose Florida in 2000 and the 2000 election because of the lack of a high-faith profile. Al Gore won the popular vote nationally and the popular vote of the majority who cast ballots in Florida on election day. He lost Florida because the fix was in, because the Voting Rights Act was not enforced — and because Republicans turned the recount into an alley fight while Gore played by rules.
Republican partisan Katherine Harris, acting as both Secretary of State and the head of the Bush campaign, used a Republican firm to purge the voting rolls of eligible African American voters. Jewish voters, confused by sloppy ballots, ended up voting for Pat Buchanan by the thousands.
During the recount, Gore took his team on the ground off the field; Republicans canvassed right-wing staffers from Washington, transported them to Florida and turned them into mobs to intimidate vote counters. And then a transparently partisan majority in the Supreme Court violated its own principles and shamed itself by ordering an end to a fair count, worried Bush might lose. This wasn't about faith; it was about will.
Similarly, Democrats didn't lose Ohio in 2004 and the 2004 election because of the lack of a high faith profile. They lost because the fix was in, and because once again, Republicans had a partisan zealot — Ken Blackwell — as Secretary of State. Once again he abused the powers of his office in choosing voting machines and election schemes. Once again, a majority of people set out to vote for Bush's opponent on election day. This time, John Kerry decided not even to contest the fixed result. This wasn't the absence of faith but the presence of tyranny.
Having identified the wrong tooth, Democrats are now hearing the wrong prescription. They're urged to embrace the symbols of faith, to go to church, to speak from the Gospel, to advertise their faith.
But faith is not a political posture. True faith isn't exhibited by symbolic acts, but by substance.
Values are not expressed by the paraphernalia of faith. Values are expressed by action. An abolitionist fighting to end slavery expresses faith. A slave owner attending a church that excludes slaves from attendance reflects bad faith.
The Bible says you know a tree by the fruit it bears, not by the bark it wears. We know the values of a politician not by the public prayers he or she prays, but by the priorities supported in his or her budget vote. A vote for a budget that cuts basic needs from poor children while giving more tax breaks to the affluent expresses the values — and the bad faith — of those who vote for it.
The Bible is clear about this. Faith is substance, not posturing. A person is mugged on the Jericho Road. A man of religion, displaying all the signs of piety, sees the victim and crosses to the other side of the road. A man from the victim's own ethnic origins spies him and crosses to the other side of the road. A stranger in the land, with a different religion, a different way of worshipping God, with no green card, stops, puts the victim on his donkey and provides him with the resources to get care. The parable of the Good Samaritan comes to us through the ages because it calls us to express our faith in action.
We are judged by how we treat the least of these, not how pious we are in the first pew.
Democrats should focus not on the pubic display of their faith, but on the will to fight for what they believe in. If they don't learn to stand up and fight — for the Voting Rights Act, for equal opportunity, for full employment and a living wage, for lifting the poor up, not locking them out, for making certain that every vote is counted — then they just might be left without a prayer.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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