Left Field

Stand By Your Man


In late February, Marvin Olasky took a beating in the secular press when one of his syndicated columns complained about reporters with “holes in their souls.” One of those reporters, The New York Times’ Frank Rich, responded in one of his Saturday columns. Of the University of Texas journalism professor who serves as Bush’s religion and faith-based charity advisor, Rich wrote:

Bob Jones IV wrote a cover story for a rag called World magazine slapping around the McCain family. Mr. Bush had nothing to do with this “religio-political sleaze” as William Safire described it, either, though World is edited by Marvin Olasky, the sometime Bush adviser who invented, if you please, “compassionate conservatism.”

Now Mr. Olasky [has written a piece] for the Austin American-Statesman implying that journalists who are critical of Mr. Bush have “holes in their souls,” practice “the religion of Zeus” and are therefore hostile to the Texas governor’s Christianity. The only three journalists he cites by name happen by total coincidence to be Jewish (Bill Kristol and David Brooks of The Weekly Standard are the other two). I’m sure it’s also a coincidence that Mr. Olasky, a former Jew who converted to Christianity over twenty years ago, has spun this theory at a moment when Pat Robertson is targeting Mr. Rudman, the most visible Jew in the McCain campaign. Mr. Olasky phoned me – but only after his column prompted embarrassing national press calls to the Bush campaign– to reassure me that of course he’s not an anti-Semite. Whew! He still hasn’t told me whether the religion of Zeus goes in for Bar Mitzvahs.

In a subsequent column Olasky responded that he had “no knowledge” of the religious affiliations of the columnists he cited, and “that Rich should make such a crazy charge [of anti-Semitism] shows how ugly New York politics has become.”

Now the Institute for Democracy Studies is pushing Olasky back into the news cycle, using an interview he did with the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1998 to flog an I.D.S. report on the growth of “antifeminist organizations.” Among the enclosures with the I.D.S. “Antifeminist Organizations: Institutionalizing the Backlash” is a photocopy of an Olasky interview with the editors of the quarterly publication of something called the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Olasky’s interview includes his standard mix of ersatz sociology and biblicism.

In the 1950s, people were moving to the suburbs. You had the introduction of a number of labor-saving devices in the home. Add to this the fact that the federal government was expanding its social welfare programs. Previously this work had been done by community and church-based organizations, staffed largely by female volunteers. Now it was being done by government-paid professionals.… One result was a lot of lonely women, removed from their roots, who didn’t have a productive way to spend their time.

Olasky uses Betty Friedan as his straw woman, arguing that her The Feminine Mystique was written out of this context, and her suggestion to these lonely suburban women was that they join the work force. “This they have done,” Olasky observes, “with dire consequences for society as a whole.” Olasky concludes with an empirical observation somewhat surprising from a professor of journalism (the “just the facts” profession): “Of course, feminism has led to increased poverty among women.”

He is on sounder biblical ground when he describes the role of women in politics:

God does not forbid women to be leaders in society, generally speaking, but when that occurs it’s usually because of the abdication of men. As in the situation of Deborah and Barak, there’s a certain shame attached. I could vote for a woman for the presidency in some situations, but again there’s a certain shame attached. Why don’t you have a man who’s able to step forward? God’s Word says very plainly that an elder is to be a man; he is to be the husband of one wife. It’s harder when there are women who are CEO’s on companies and so forth. Still, it comes down to the question of “Do we trust in God and do we believe that He has wisdom that we don’t have?”

Olasky’s argument should helpfully eliminate Liddy Dole and Christine Todd Whitman from the short list of GWB’s potential running mates. It also raises the question of whether Bush will distance himself from Olasky’s loopy anti-feminism, which is unlikely to appeal to your average soccer mom. The latter seems dubious; Bush will win or lose with Marvin. The Governor wrote the introduction to Olasky’s forthcoming book, Compassionate Conservatism. “Marvin is compassionate conservatism’s leading thinker,” Bush writes. The book (out in July) won’t be a bestseller. But it will provide some insight into Bush’s odd mix of religion and politics. By a copy before you vote. Buy two copies and send one to Christi Whitman.

Be Careful What You Pray For

Commencement ceremonies at the state’s universities are only a month away, and at Midwestern State University no one will rest easy until the benediction is over. The Wichita Falls school has been enfolded in a prayer controversy since its May 1998 commencement ceremonies, when a student rapt in the throes of religious mania (or a nearly terminal case of stage fright) delivered a highly sectarian Invocation and Benediction. “Let us be truly a people branded with the name of Christ, a people of God, a people who will know God intimately,” exhorted Mary King, who also begged for forgiveness for her classmates’ putative sins of “idolatry,” “worshipping the intellectual mind” and “humanism.” King nearly made it through the ceremony, but as she closed with a cry for “Mercy on them, Jesus,” she collapsed, shrieking and sobbing. President Louis Rodríguez stepped to the podium and called for the recessional – and an ambulance.

In response to this embarrassing (and presumably unconstitutional) episode, the faculty senate voted to recommend the end of prayers at commencement. Professor John Dowd, president of the senate at the time, recently told Left Field, “We decided that there are plenty of campus opportunities for student participation in religious-oriented activities of their own choosing, but that a school-sponsored commencement prayer is just not appropriate at a public institution.” President Rodríguez did not agree, telling a reporter that “the culture [of this area] has a strong tradition of religious beliefs.” Rodríguez has since substituted a “non-sectarian” prayer, delivered by a hand-picked student who can be trusted not to deviate from a pre-approved script.

Left Field has recently learned that President Rodríguez also took the extraordinary step of deleting all record of Mary King’s prayers from the official videotape of the 1998 commencement. In response to an open records request for a copy of the tape, Rodríguez responded, “When we consulted counsel after this unexpected and spontaneous format occurred, it was agreed that to republish and distribute copies of this inappropriate event would imply that the University supported and sanctioned the format and the manner in which the prayer was delivered, and would only serve to compound the wrong. In order to avoid even an inadvertent release and repetition of a showing of this matter, the prayer was deleted from the videotape, and no tapes of the original exist to our knowledge.” That appears to mean that to avoid embarrassment to all parties – but most especially the M.S.U. administration – the University destroyed a public record. University counsel Roger Lee confirmed that he had advised censoring the videotape. “It’s not like we were destroying evidence or anything,” insisted Lee. “It’s just that we didn’t want to expose the University, or [King], or anyone else to a repetition of what was inappropriate.”

Texas A.C.L.U. Executive Director Jay Jacobson noted that advising the destruction of a public record or of potential evidence in a lawsuit could at least in theory subject an attorney to ethical sanctions from the state bar. The relevant section of the Texas Freedom of Information Act (552.351) allows for a fine up to $4,000 and three months’ imprisonment. Attorney Joseph Larsen of the Freedom of Information Foundation was more forgiving. In the absence of an actual litigation, he said, M.S.U. is probably in the clear. Lee was unrepentant: “We concluded that [keeping the tape] would do nothing but compound whatever transgression was perceived to have occurred in the first place.”

Asked about the administration’s conclusions, Dowd commented, “My advice to my graduate students in education is ‘full disclosure,’ being up front. If there’s something that’s embarrassing, bite the bullet, admit it … because in the long run, your credibility is more important than any of those issues by themselves.” Apparently, the bullet is out of the bag. Bootleg copies of the videotape, source unknown, are circulating in Wichita Falls. One found its way to Austin, where Left Field’s unshriven and unapologetic humanists can now amuse themselves with the spectacle of frenzied and unanswered prayers on their behalf (see photo).

Meanwhile late last month, the state of Texas (in the person of Attorney General John Cornyn) argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that school-sponsored prayers at public high school football games do not violate the constitutional separation of church and state. We trust the A.G. has plenty of time to preside over the content of student prayers at all Texas public institutions, in order to make certain that no “unexpected and spontaneous formats” occur.

Flossing with Conviction

With the right connections and enough money, you can get almost anything you want in prison: cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine, pornography, even sex. Rampant contraband trafficking reflects poorly on the Department of Criminal Justice, but there are more embarrassing things still – as officials discovered last month, when death row inmate Ponchai Wilkerson spit out a handcuff key as he lay dying on the lethal injection gurney. Apparently, one item you can’t get inside – or so prison officials would have us believe – is a hacksaw. In mid-March, an inmate at a state prison near Palestine escaped from his cell and used a handmade knife to kill an inmate from a rival gang. He got out, according to prison officials, by sawing through the iron bars of his cell with dental floss. Just to speed things along, they said, he used toothpaste as an abrasive.

Here at headquarters, that explanation set off the Official Left Field Bullshit Detector. (Why, for example, didn’t the prisoner jimmy the lock, as over fifty inmates have in the last fourteen months?) In the interest of credibility, our Research and Development Department attempted to recreate the great dental breakout in the lab. Using two interns (as far as we know neither has done time) as our inmates, and a heavy iron door handle for our bar, we undertook a controlled study: each intern flossed for one hour per day, for one week. We used waxed floss, for durability, a baking soda toothpaste, for maximum abrasion, and a borrowed micrometer, to measure our progress. Results are shown at right (actual results may vary). The door handle turned white. Our interns are still flossing.