Friday, September 12, 2014

Cruz and Goodell Exploit Their Fans

Here's a fact:  Playing to your core constituency doesn't make you right.

Consider the public examples of Ted Cruz and Roger Goodell this week.

On Wednesday, the junior senator from Texas addressed an advocacy group for Middle Eastern Christians in Washington, DC, and right off the bat, made a sweeping portrayal of Israel as a country worthy of everyone's unwavering support.  He was booed off the stage by vociferous members of his audience, an audience comprised of many people who do not view the heavy-handed politics of modern Israel in the same beneficent light as many evangelical Christians do.

After all, major differences exist between the people of Israel as God's "chosen people," and today's nation-state of Israel.  Those differences are profound in their implications both for Biblical eschatology and ordinary diplomacy between sovereign nations, and they represent a frustratingly tangled web of social and military objectives.

Apparently, none of that matters to Cruz.  He relished being the hard-spoken antagonist.  He basked in his opportunity to portray himself as a defiant defender of Israel, and he didn't seem to care whether the Israel he was talking about is the one of cultural Judaism, religious Judaism, or political Judaism.  Nevertheless, watching footage of the event online yesterday, it was easy to see his likely presidential campaign using that same footage in a calculated appeal for votes from the religious right.

What's dismaying - no, disgusting - about Cruz's misguided little stunt is that anybody can visit the website of the organization hosting the meeting Cruz addressed, and learn about its intentions.  The group is called "In Defense of Christians" (IDC), and their mission is fairly straightforward:

"IDC seek[s]... to protect [not only] the human rights of Christians, but all religious groups.  These rights are universal, applicable to all human persons.  In this sense, 'Christian' refers not only those who confess the Christian faith, but also Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, and even the freedom to confess no religious belief at all."

Now, we can take exception to the group's liberal interpretation of the term "Christian," but their message is still the same.  Basically, IDC is a group of people who are working for religious freedom in the Middle East.  Religious freedom for everyone.  Right now, as most of us know, there really is no religious freedom in that part of the world - not even among the various interpretations of Islam.

In addition, as far as the "Christian" in this group's name is concerned, it's important to realize that not all Christ-followers around the world are thrilled about the political Israeli state, and how it operates.  Even here in the United States, support for the modern nation of Israel among evangelicals is not universal.  Yet Cruz is either unaware of that reality, or doesn't care about it.

On the one hand, inviting a right-wing senator from Texas like Cruz to speak at such an event seems a bit awkward, since Cruz is not known for having the ability to parse political nuance like IDC appears to be doing.  After all, how many Texas Republicans, when they hear the term "Palestinian," think of Christianity at all?  To many of us in the Lone Star State, Palestinian is Muslim, anti-Israel, and pro-terrorism.  Period.

That's the limited mindset Cruz was hoping to exploit, and he was successful.  Right-wingers reacted with glee at what they claimed was Cruz's bravery and staunch political incorrectness, which to them, is a badge of honor.  What a leader he is, to be so forthright in the face of anti-Israeli sentiment!

Yeah, right.  In reality, not only was Cruz belligerent and insensitive, he appeared to willingly project an alarming lack of intelligence regarding the Middle East and Christianity's history there.  Not exactly desirable qualities for an American president who's going to inherit some staggering problems in the Middle East in 2016.

And not only that, but Cruz betrayed a shameful ignorance of both basic Christianity and Judaism for not only a right-wing evangelical, but the proud son of a Baptist preacher.  "Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state," Cruz proclaimed, ignoring both the Christian reliance on God's sovereignty, as well as the Jewish belief that Jesus Christ (the Namesake of Christianity, remember) hasn't been born yet.

Oh well.  It's not like Cruz's constituency cares too much about these other technicalities, either.  To them, it's enough that Cruz said what he said with a flourish and was booed off the stage by a bunch of Muslim sympathizers.  Only the liberal media is calling those people "Christians," and the liberal media doesn't know what a Christian is anyway.

Oddly enough, it's Cruz's constituency who like to blast liberals like our mainstream media for believing that truth is relative.  But Cruz and his ilk are also saying the truth is relative when they attempt to frame reality within their brittle partisan perspective.

It's like another topic we Americans have been more enthusiastically following this week from the National Football League, after media outlet TMZ obtained and released that atrocious video showing Ray Rice punching his then-fiance, Janay Palmer, unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been raked over the coals for what many people believe to be his insensitivity regarding domestic violence, and a punishment for Rice that a lot of people considered to be too light.  Rice has since been dropped by his team, the Baltimore Ravens, but questions persist in the media regarding what Goodell knew about Ray's behavior towards Janay, and when he knew it.

Goodell's critics then take the Rice video and lump it in with so many other questionable calls the Commissioner has made over the years that appear to have immorally benefited the league, it's players, and its owners.  There seems to be a pattern here.  TMZ seems to have had no trouble obtaining this elevator video, but Goodell says the NFL never could.  What's the real story?  Was the NFL hoping for a cover-up?  Shouldn't this be the final straw against Goodell and his hubris at trying to control his spoiled and uninhibited players?

Last night, the Ravens played their first game without Rice, and judging from how their fans reacted to the Rice controversy, Goodell knows how to play football's fans.  Reporters covering the game were amazed to see both men and women proudly wearing souvenir jerseys with Rice's name and number.  Many fans were of the opinion that Rice may have done something wrong, but he needs to be given a second chance, especially since the woman he knocked out eventually married him.  If she's OK with it, why can't everyone else be?  Why does he need to be dropped from the team?

Again, the fact that Goodell knows how to spin things for his organization's fan base doesn't necessarily mean that the NFL's fans are right, does it?  Since football is as violent a sport as it is these days, who's to say that football fans are the best judges of what's too violent, even in domestic abuse cases?  It's no secret that sports fans tend to idolize their favorite players, and the NFL seems particularly adept at exploiting that phenomenon at the expense of conventional morality and ethics.  Remember Michael Vick's dog fighting?  Don't forget the NFL's adamant denial of football's inherent dangers to brain health for its players, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.  How about the "bountygate" scandal by the New Orleans Saints?  Then there's Josh Brent of the Dallas Cowboys, who killed a fellow teammate while he was driving drunk.  Effective crisis management is a desirable quality in any chief executive, but Goodell seems to be particularly willing to rule in favor of perpetrators instead of any moral code.

And he knows his league's fans will love him for it.  Michael Vick is back in the game, and has gone on to be one of the NFL's highest-paid players.  Josh Brent is coming back, too, even though the teammate he killed never will.  For Goodell, it's all about "second chances.''  Not just second chances at proving players learn something from the slaps on their wrists, but a second chance for the NFL to make even more money off of these guys.

After all, fans have short memories.

That's why appealing to your core constituency doesn't mean you're right.  It simply means you know how they think.

Or don't think, as the case may be.

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