Dispatches > The Buzz

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buzz from online journals of politics & culture

Issue: "Ten Commandments showdown," Aug. 30, 2003

The revelations keep coming in the California recall roller coaster. Democrats have attacked Arnold Schwarzenegger because of charges that he and former Austrian Nazi Kurt Waldheim are pals and because his own dad was a low-ranking Nazi official in wartime Austria. However, Mr. Schwarzenegger isn't the only candidate battling shadows from his past. Democratic frontrunner Cruz Bustamante, who is leading Mr. Schwarzenegger in some polls, turns out to have been a member of a radical Chicano college organization, M.E.Ch.A., at Fresno State University. The Movimiento Estudiantil de Aztlan believes in a distinct Chicano race with rights to Aztlan, a region encompassing most of the land Mexico ceded to the United States after the Mexican-American War.

Mr. Bustamante downplayed his involvement with the group-"I wasn't the most radical Mechista ..."-but blogger Tacitus (tacitus.org) says that's not good enough. "It's tempting to dismiss this as a youthful affiliation that means nothing today-but that temptation would be wrong.... Not being 'the most radical Mechista' in your past isn't much of a defense when the Mechista ideology itself is inherently loathsome, treasonous, and racist." Tacitus described the Mechista philosophy as "secessionism, racism, and implicit violence" and demanded that Mr. Bustamante distance himself from his past: "It's something he must face squarely and publicly. Association with known racists combined with racist Freudian slips in the recent past would have already raised the hackles of every self-described 'progressive' from the Oregon border to San Diego if he had an (R) after his name. Why not now?"

Despite their baggage, top California political blogger Daniel Weintraub (sacbee.com/static/weblogs/insider) thinks that either Mr. Bustamante or Mr. Schwarzenegger will be elected. Mr. Weintraub hypothesizes that since Mr. Bustamante will pull the vast majority of the Democratic vote, any Republican challenger will have to grab around 40% of the vote, and he believes only one candidate could do that: "Even if Arnold collapses, it's difficult to imagine a scenario that gets either McClintock or Simon to 40 percent. They are unlikely to pull many Democrats or independents and would thus need close to 100 percent of the Republican vote behind them. Not going to happen."

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New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof's latest attack on evangelicals raised the hackles of Christian bloggers like Christopher Johnson of the Midwest Conservative Journal (mcj.bloghorn.com). He offered mock sympathy to Mr. Kristof's plight in "having all those people around who actually believe in miracles. Next thing you know, those folks'll start telling people that Jesus actually did rise from the dead." Mr. Johnson offered one explanation of why American churches have accomplished more than their European counterparts: They "had to convince people why it was in their best earthly and eternal interests to become Christians. The result was bodies of believers who were there because they wanted to be, not because the state said they had to be if they ever wanted to amount to something in society."

Mr. Johnson also pithily explained why he was tired of journalists linking Christianity with Islam as platforms for extremism: "This comparison will be valid if and only if some Southern Baptists fly an airplane into an Islamic skyscraper. Or if American Christian converts to Islam are murdered. Not before."

Blogs can turn local stories into objects of concern for national audiences. Education bloggers were all over the New Orleans story of Bridget Green, the high-school valedictorian who flunked the graduation exam for the fifth time and failed to graduate. Ms. Green received an A in Algebra II her senior year, even though she didn't possess the 10th-grade skills needed to pass her exam. The Louisiana exam was no fluke: Ms. Green scored an 11 on her ACT, a score worse than that of 99 percent of high-school seniors who take the exam. Joanne Jacobs (joannejacobs.com) explained how such a student could rise to the top of her class: "They were giving her A's for being a good kid. But they weren't teaching her. She passed the English exam on her first try, but just barely. The math questions 'looked nothing like what she learned in class.'"

Kimberly Swygert went into greater detail on her blog Number 2 Pencil (kimberlyswygert.com), even linking to sample questions from the graduation test. After describing problems on the test that required only simple arithmetic, Ms. Swygert asked, "The valedictorian couldn't do this? And critics are telling us to take another look at this exam? I'd say we take another look at what Fortier High [Ms. Green's high school] considers to be Algebra II work."

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