Most “Conservatives” will protect Trump. No Matter What.

This week, Hannity and Hume rushed to tell us that colluding with Putin to subvert the results of an American election is entirely legal. The National Review thinks evidence of collusion would be “an enormous calamity” for Trump and lead to impeachment if Democrats win Congress. But, they don’t think there’s anything wrong about collusion, they just think it’s a “dead-end” argument to talk about legality.

Let’s set aside, for a moment, all the state, federal or campaign finance laws that might have been broken. Or even the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Let’s set aside the fact that Trump asked for help from “Russia, if you’re listening…”

Let’s focus on why a big faction of the Republican party isn’t troubled by the idea that the GOP candidate might have colluded with a foreign government to influence an election.

We’re up against a party that doesn’t think we are Americans.

Remember all that talk about “Real America” and “Real Americans”? Those terms are used specifically to suggest we are “fake Americans” who listen to “fake news”.

That’s why Trump was a birther.

Seriously, go read Jim Henley’s entire thread. Highlights below.

That’s James G. Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, who was later indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges by a federal grand jury.

Jim goes on to talk about how our security agencies have meddled in foreign countries, how they can always find someone willing to take their money, and whether turnabout is fair.

Trump isn’t a “Putin stooge”. He’s as American as apple pie. Roughly 60 million Americans didn’t need any convincing to vote for him.

Republicans on the Hill will protect Trump. Most Republicans would vote for Trump in 2020, no matter what happens. “Russia” won’t faze them for a second.

The task Democrats face is to pull together a compelling vision and message to win back the House and Senate over 2018 and 2020. “Russia” alone, won’t work. Just as distaste for Trump alone didn’t work in 2016.

Democrats fail to pick up any seats in special elections for Congress.

We’ve had four House special elections this year. Democrats have lost all four. All four were tough races to replace Republicans from very safe districts who were appointed to posts within the Trump administration. In 2016, the Republicans were all incumbents, and their Democratic challengers were:

  • Mike Pompeo (60.7%) won against Daniel Giroux (29.6%) in KS-4
  • Ryan Zinke (56.2%) won against Denise Juneau (40.5%) in MT-AL
  • Tom Price (61.7%) won against Rodney Stooksbury (38.3%) in GA-06
  • Mick Mulvaney (59.2%) won against Fran Person (38.7%) in SC-05

In KS-04, an Independent and a Libertarian won almost 10% of the vote in 2016.

First for the good news, Democrats improved their margins significantly, losing by single digits races they had lost by 15%, 20% or even 30%.

Seat ‘16 margin 2017 Dem Dem 2017 Rep rep 3rd ‘17 Margin
KS-04 -31.1% James Thompson 45.7% Ron Estes 52.5% 1.7% -6.8%
MT-AL -15.7% Rob Quist 44.1% Greg Gianforte 50.2% 5.7% -6.1%
GA-06 -23.4% Jon Ossoff 48.1% Karen Handel 51.9% 0.0% -3.8%
SC-05 -20.5% Archie Parnell 47.9% Ralph Norman 51.1% 1.0% -3.2%

3rd party candidates didn’t play a significant role in the special elections except in Montana. I’m ignoring CA-34 for obvious reasons. FWIW, Chaffetz’s seat in UT-03 is up on November 7, Sessions’ Senate seat is also up on Dec 12.

Two of these special elections rank among the most expensive house races. The Georgia race was the most expensive ever, with estimates putting total spending at $60 million. The DCCC dropped $5 million into the Ossoff race, which was an enormous bet that they could win a deeply Republican district in the Atlanta suburbs. The DCCC and other Democratic groups spent far less on the other three races.

Seat DEM Spend REP Spend D Party Spend R Party Spend ‘16 turnout ‘17 turnout Turnout drop
KS-04 $292,000 $501,093 $3,000 $130,000 275,251 120,897 -56.09%
MT-al $6,000,000 $4,600,000 $340,000 $5,600,000 507,831 379,763 -25.22%
GA-06 $23,000,000 $4,800,000 $5,000,000 $11,700,000 326,005 259,488 -20.40%
SC-05 $500,000 $1,100,000 $275,000 $97,000 273,006 87,840 -67.83%

* The numbers above aren’t complete, Q2 filings aren’t in, I link to my sources.

The amount of spending does seem to correlate with turnout. The two expensive races, MT-AL and GA-06 had pretty high turnout for an off-year election. For a special election, it was sky-high. The low spend races had much larger drops in turnout.

But the spending didn’t result in better margins. The improvements over the 2016 Democratic candidate and Clinton’s vote share were lowest in MT-AL and GA-06. The largest gains over 2016 tallies were in KS-04 and SC-05. Those races were largely ignored by the national media and Democratic donors, until the very last minute,

Seat   ‘12 BHO ‘16 HRC ‘16 Dem ‘17 DEM Lost by > ‘16 Dem > HRC HR.676 Trump poll
KS-04 36.1% 33.0% 29.6% 45.7% 6.8% +16.9% +12.7% YES 41.6%
MT-AL 41.7% 35.9% 40.5% 44.1% 6.1% +3.6% +8.2% YES 39.3%
GA-06 37.5% 46.8% 38.3% 48.1% 3.8% +9.8% +1.3% NO 38.4%
SC-05 43.6% 38.8% 38.7% 47.9% 3.2% +9.2% +9.1% NO 38.4%

Distaste for Trump alone won’t automatically translate into victory. I listed the candidate’s stances on single-payer as a proxy for whether or not they’re progressive, so you can consider whether or not policy positions played a role. It’s not clear it made a difference, but if you look at average improvement over the 2016 Presidential and Congressional candidate, even Rob Quist did better (3.6% + 8.2%) than Jon Ossoff (9.8% + 1.3%). There is still some question as to whether any of the candidates have run a robust “anti-Trump” campaign.

That said, every candidate improved on the vote-share gained by the presidential or congressional candidate in 2016. They all improved on Obama’s vote-share in 2012.

If improvement over 2016 is the measure, then James Thompson’s campaign was the best run. But he lost by the widest margin. If loss by smallest margin is the measure, then Archie Parnell ran the best campaign. And Parnell is literally a lawyer for Goldman who ran on a centrist message.

The loss margin has shrunk with each race. Perhaps that’s because the GA, SC candidates ran better races. Or it may be because Trump’s approval ratings have dropped even further in a month. The only woman in the four races was a Republican, Karen Handel in GA-06. All the candidates were white.

There are many different ways to read the data. Personally, the two things that stand out to me is that the sleeper races were tighter, and that fundraising/spending drove turnout.

It is very difficult to claim the enormous sums spent on the GA-06 race were a wise allocation of resources. Yes, on its face, Clinton outperformed Obama’s 2012 tally in GA-06, so it’s reasonable to believe that district had a high dislike for Trump. Yet Ossoff didn’t improve much over Clinton’s total. Should that silence those strategists who believe dislike of Trump married to a carefully crafted centrist message delivered by a polished candidates will carry Democrats to victory (at least in the suburbs)? It probably won’t, because there are other reasons the party contested Ga-06 as if it were and existential threat:

If Ossoff were to win, it would be taken by a lot of Democrats as a huge validation of the centrist/barely-left-of-center approach to 2018.

But yeah, if he comes up short, it’s a new opening for the left of the party to argue that only a more pointed liberal message will fire up the voters the party needs for 2018.

That was the biggest concern mainstream Democrats had going into tonight. — NY Times

The biggest question I’m left with is this. Would it have made more of a long-term difference if $20 of the $28 million spent in GA-06 had been spent on a voter registration campaign? We will never know.

PS. If this isn’t enough, and you’re still searching for answers as to why Jon Ossoff lost in GA-06. Eve Peyser over at Vice has collected 51 reasons, including this gem:

—  @subirgrewal

Bernie Sanders: How Democrats Can Stop Losing Elections

Bernie at the People’s Summit, a Rainbow coalition.

The NY Times has an Op-Ed by Bernie Sanders up, advocating the Democratic party adopt a more progressive agenda.

Bernie Sanders: How Democrats Can Stop Losing Elections

In 2016, the Democratic Party lost the presidency to possibly the least popular candidate in American history. In recent years, Democrats have also lost the Senate and House to right-wing Republicans whose extremist agenda is far removed from where most Americans are politically. Republicans now control almost two-thirds of governor’s offices and have gained about 1,000 seats in state legislatures in the past nine years. In 24 states, Democrats have almost no political influence at all.

Bernie argues that the right way to reverse this decline is with a progressive agenda that shows working people the party is firmly on their side. He notes that the sharp spike in participation among young people in the UK is an example of how a progressive platform can help drive voter turnout among the young.

The Democrats must develop an agenda that speaks to the pain of tens of millions of families who are working longer hours for lower wages and to the young people who, unless we turn the economy around, will have a lower standard of living than their parents. A vast majority of Americans understand that our current economic model is a dismal failure. Who can honestly defend the current grotesque level of inequality in which the top 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent? Who thinks it’s right that, despite a significant increase in worker productivity, millions of Americans need two or three jobs to survive, while 52 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent? What person who claims to have a sense of morality can justify the fact that the richest people in our country have a life expectancy about 15 years longer than our poorest citizens?

Bernie highlights a number of issues he believes Democrats should campaign on and how these can be contrasted with Trump’s plans and those of the GOP’s billionaire masters. The list includes Medicare for All, a progressive tax system, an infrastructure plan, action on climate change, free public college, criminal justice reform and comprehensive immigration reform. Some of these issues have been part of the mainstream Democratic agenda for a while, others have been languishing in the progressive caucus for years. Bernie argues it is time for Democrats adopt an unabashedly progressive platform.

While Democrats should appeal to moderate Republicans who are disgusted with the Trump presidency, too many in our party cling to an overly cautious, centrist ideology. The party’s main thrust must be to make politics relevant to those who have given up on democracy and bring millions of new voters into the political process. It must be prepared to take on the right-wing extremist ideology of the Koch brothers and the billionaire class, and fight for an economy and a government that work for all, not just the 1 percent.

In many ways, the Democratic party has already begun moving in the direction Bernie is advocating for. John Conyers Jr. who has been a relentless voice for Medicare-for-All (and sponsor of the bill Bernie advocated for on the campaign trail) is seeing more Congressional Democrats than ever support his plan. Rep. Bobby Scott (VA-3), Rep. Keith Ellison (MN-5), Sen. Patty Murray (WA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) introduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15. They are supported by the Democratic leadership.

— @subirgrewal

DNC lawyers say it can pick candidates in smoke-filled back-room

For the DNC, the fallout from the presidential primary is not yet over.

In the conduct and management of the affairs and procedures of the Democratic National Committee, particularly as they apply to the preparation and conduct of the Presidential nomination process, the Chairperson shall exercise impartiality and even handedness as between the Presidential candidates and campaigns. The Chairperson shall be responsible for ensuring that the national officers and staff of the Democratic National Committee maintain impartiality and even-handedness during the Democratic Party Presidential nominating process. — Democratic party charter/by-laws

That section of the charter is the subject of a class-action lawsuit by Sanders supporters and DNC donors. The plaintiffs claim the DNC violated its own by-laws and was not impartial during the 2016 presidential primary race.

The DNC’s lawyers had an interesting defense at the initial hearing:

“We could have voluntarily decided that, ‘Look, we’re gonna go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way,’” Bruce Spiva, lawyer for the DNC, said during a court hearing in Carol Wilding, et al. v. DNC Services Corp., according to court filings exclusively obtained by TYT Politics. […]

In one of the more strange defense rationales, Spiva evoked baptism to suggest the term “impartial” is too vague and open-to-interpretation to be enforced legally.

“You have a charter that says you have to be — where the party has adopted a principle of even-handedness, and just to get the language exactly right, that they would be even-handed and impartial, I believe, is the exact language. And, you know, that’s not self-defining, your Honor. I mean that’s kind of like, you know, saying, Who’s a Baptist?”

Jordan Chariton (TYT) on Medium

Now, as an occasional cigar-smoker, I object to the stereotype, but I’ll let it slide, this one time.

The attorney for the plaintiffs pointed out that DNC officials, including chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz repeated the impartiality claim on television numerous times.

The DNC’s lawyers aren’t addressing that. Instead, they’re trying to undermine the expectation of impartiality itself. Claiming that it is too vague and not enforceable.

“There’s no right to not have your candidate disadvantaged or have another candidate advantaged. There’s no contractual obligation here . . . it’s not a situation where a promise has been made that is an enforceable promise,” Spiva said.

— Salon

The DNC lawyer’s argument is this: The charter is crafted in such a way that what appears to the average person to be a promise of impartiality isn’t one at all. It’s all an illusion. What Democrats have is just a “political promise”.

The most recent court hearing on the case was held on April 25, during which the DNC reportedly argued that the organization’s neutrality among Democratic campaigns during the primaries was merely a “political promise,” and therefore it had no legal obligations to remain impartial throughout the process. — Newsweek

An uncharitable view would be that the actions of DNC officials were indefensible, and so this is the only defense their legal team could come up with.

Let’s be charitable for a moment. Maybe this is just a legal tactic, the quickest way for the DNC’s lawyers to get this case dismissed. Let’s accept their claim that there’s no “enforceable promise” so we don’t waste the court’s time trying to figure out whether or not the DNC was actually impartial. Let’s agree with them that impartiality is undefined, and there’s no measurable standard to apply to the DNC official’s actions.Now, let’s take this line of thought to its conclusion. The DNC claims:

  • the charter authorizes them to pick a candidate in a proverbial cigar smoke-filled backroom.
  • “impartiality” is so vague a concept that DNC officials can, with impunity, take actions to favor whichever candidate they wish.
  • impartiality is a “political promise”, and we all know those are worth squat amiright?

What then, is the purpose of the entire primary charade? To give Democrats the illusion that they have an actual say in who heads the ticket? To lull us into believing Democrats actually stand for democracy?

Does anyone at the DNC understand what calls for “unity” look like in this light?

Does anyone at the DNC understand what this argument does to their credibility in the future?

Does anyone at the DNC understand what happens when politicians break a “political promise”?

— @subirgrewal

Why do 67% of Americans think Democrats are out of touch with the concerns of most people?

That 67% of Americans think Democrats are out of touch with their concerns should worry all of us. I don’t have a good explanation at the moment.

But looking through the cross-tabs of this poll, I can say that it’s not just racist white people, note that 60% of non-white Americans say Democrats are out of touch.

And before we jump to the conclusion that it’s just misogynist men, please note that 59% of American women say Democrats are out of touch.

and before we jump to the conclusion that it’s just awful Republicans, please note that 75% of independents, and 44% of Democrats said the party is out of touch:

That 44% of self-declared Democrats think the party is out of touch should cause some very serious soul-searching.

Before we console ourselves that Republicans must doing worse than Democrats, note that they are not:

Before we insist that Trump must be doing worse than Democrats, please note that he is not:

It’s also worth noting that income and education don’t explain the disaffection with Democrats. Americans across levels of educational attainment and household income think Democratic party is out of touch.

We do a little better with voters from households earning <50K, but it is not as big a difference as we might think. 62% of households making less than 50K think the Democratic party isn’t in touch with their priorities.

The poll results are from a telephone survey of 1,004 randomly selected adults in the US. 74% of respondents voted in the election. Of those, 46% voted for Hillary Clinton while 43% voted for Donald Trump. In one bright spot, when these voters are asked whom they would vote for today, support for Trump drops to 37%.

the Democratic Party is viewed as far more out of touch by Democrats than Trump or the GOP are by Republicans. — WaPo

The same poll asked voters in 2014 whether they thought Democrats were in touch, 48% said yes back then. In 2013, 43% had said Democrats were in touch. How did we drop to 28% between 2014 and 2017?

PS. Obama’s “in-touch” numbers were even better than Democrats at 48% and 51% in 2014 and 2013 respectively.

Top Democratic pollsters have conducted private focus groups and polling in an effort to answer that question, and they shared the results with me.A shockingly large percentage of these Obama-Trump voters said Democrats’ economic policies will favor the wealthy — twice the percentage that said the same about Trump. I was also permitted to view video of some focus group activity, which showed Obama-Trump voters offering sharp criticism of Democrats on the economy. […]

Skepticism about the Democratic Party was echoed rather forcefully in the focus groups that I watched. In one, Obama-Trump voters were asked what Democrats stand for today and gave answers such as these:

“The one percent.”

“The status quo.”

“They’re for the party. Themselves and the party.”

One woman, asked whether the Democratic Party is for people like her, flatly declared: “Nope.” — WaPo

So, for discussion, what exactly is going on here and why do so many Americans now think the Democratic party is so out of touch?

GOP donor picks 2016 presidential candidates just like he picks “acquisitions” or “investments”

The NY Times is running a story about a privately commissioned poll that played a role in shuffling the Republican Presidential candidate deck for 2016: Mystery Solved: The Man Behind a G.O.P. Trend-Setting Poll

The NY Times says this expensive, private poll convinced Romney he had a chance to win the nomination and the general election. It now indicates Jeb Bush is the strongest GOP candidate. So who might have have had enough at stake to pay for an extensive poll of over 10,00 participants?

Now, the identity of the wealthy Republican donor who commissioned the polling is no longer a mystery: It was, according to people interviewed on the matter, Muneer A. Satter, a former partner at Goldman Sachs and a major Republican donor in Chicago.Mr. Satter, a keen student of data, is now backing Mr. Bush.

But that’s not all. You might ask yourself why someone would go through all the expense and trouble. Thankfully, Mr. Satter has a spokesperson who can explain:

Asked about the polling, a spokeswoman for Mr. Satter, Lisa Wagner, said: “Any decision Mr. Satter makes regarding an investment, an acquisition, or on anything, he uses metrics and data.”

This probably falls into the not news category (yawn). But I found it oddly refreshing that someone had the balls to come out and admit that politicians are “investments” and “acquisitions” for wealthy donors. They don’t call it “political economy” for nothing.

The question for those of us among the hoi-poloi who can’t make such “investments” should be to ask what “return” these “investments” are expected to provide if they succeed in “acquiring” power through our democratic process?

Perhaps lower taxes for “job-creators”, or a more “industry-friendly” regulatory environment are expected. Is that more meaningful than being invited to a White House sleepover?

And I wonder, once you’ve “acquired” a presidential candidate, do you ask your personal trainer to teach them to sit and roll-over when you command? If money is speech, marching orders must be twice as protected by the first amendment right?

But we are a government of the people, for the people and by the people. Or is that just a fairy-tale we tell ourselves so we can sleep at night?

I have used up my quota of air-quotes for the year.

PS. In case you were wondering, yes, this is the same Muneer Satter who gave over 100k to Obama and kicked another 100k over to Rahm Emanuel. I guess that’s what we mean when we say America is all about equal opportunity?

Obama’s nuanced, thoughtful remarks at Prayer Breakfast have the right in an uproar

The Washington Post reports he said the following at the National Prayer Breakfast:

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” he told the group, speaking of the tension between the compassionate and murderous acts religion can inspire. “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

which is a pretty standard comment on DKos. The predictable Republican response (drum-roll):

Some Republicans were outraged. “The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore (R). “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”

and then further on

Obama emphasized the need to respect minorities in his speech Thursday, saying it was part of the obligation Americans face as members of a diverse and open society, “And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — and stand shoulder to shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.”

DKos diaries Obama may have been lurking on:Yes, ISIS Burned a Man Alive: White Americans Did the Same Thing to Black People by the Thousands

Religious freedom gives me the constitutional right to violate your constitutional rights. Right?

ISIS is largely a figment of our imagination

Gunmen kill 12 at Paris headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo

and I leave you with this:

“We welcome the scrutiny of the world — because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfect,” Obama said. “America is not the same as it was 100 years ago, 50 years ago or even a decade ago. Because we fight for our ideals and are willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short.”But each of these admissions of fault — whether it is Obama’s acknowledgment during his 2009 Cairo speech that the United States was involved in the 1953 coup overthrowing the government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh or the suggestion that America has “a moral responsibility to act” on arms control because only the United States had “used a nuclear weapon” — has drawn sharp criticism from opponents.

6:31 AM PT: Since this has sparked some discussion in the media, and more importantly made it to the DKos rec list, I’m adding the entire text of Obama’s remarks below the fold so we can understand the context, avoid selective quotes and also because it is quite an awesome speech. I would urge you to read it in its entirety.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, good morning.  Giving all praise and honor to God.  It is wonderful to be back with you here.  I want to thank our co-chairs, Bob and Roger.  These two don’t always agree in the Senate, but in coming together and uniting us all in prayer, they embody the spirit of our gathering today.I also want to thank everybody who helped organize this breakfast.  It’s wonderful to see so many friends and faith leaders and dignitaries.  And Michelle and I are truly honored to be joining you here today.

I want to offer a special welcome to a good friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama — who is a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion, who inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings.  (Applause.)  I’ve been pleased to welcome him to the White House on many occasions, and we’re grateful that he’s able to join us here today.  (Applause.)

There aren’t that many occasions that bring His Holiness under the same roof as NASCAR.  (Laughter.)  This may be the first.  (Laughter.)  But God works in mysterious ways.  (Laughter.)   And so I want to thank Darrell for that wonderful presentation.  Darrell knows that when you’re going 200 miles an hour, a little prayer cannot hurt.  (Laughter.)  I suspect that more than once, Darrell has had the same thought as many of us have in our own lives — Jesus, take the wheel.  (Laughter.) Although I hope that you kept your hands on the wheel when you were thinking that.  (Laughter.)

He and I obviously share something in having married up.  And we are so grateful to Stevie for the incredible work that they’ve done together to build a ministry where the fastest drivers can slow down a little bit, and spend some time in prayer and reflection and thanks.  And we certainly want to wish Darrell a happy birthday.  (Applause.)  Happy birthday.

I will note, though, Darrell, when you were reading that list of things folks were saying about you, I was thinking, well, you’re a piker.  I mean, that — (laughter.)  I mean, if you really want a list, come talk to me.  (Laughter.)  Because that ain’t nothing.  (Laughter.)  That’s the best they can do in NASCAR?  (Laughter.)

Slowing down and pausing for fellowship and prayer — that’s what this breakfast is about.  I think it’s fair to say Washington moves a lot slower than NASCAR.  Certainly my agenda does sometimes.  (Laughter.)  But still, it’s easier to get caught up in the rush of our lives, and in the political back-and-forth that can take over this city.  We get sidetracked with distractions, large and small.  We can’t go 10 minutes without checking our smartphones — and for my staff, that’s every 10 seconds.  And so for 63 years, this prayer tradition has brought us together, giving us the opportunity to come together in humility before the Almighty and to be reminded of what it is that we share as children of God.

And certainly for me, this is always a chance to reflect on my own faith journey.  Many times as President, I’ve been reminded of a line of prayer that Eleanor Roosevelt was fond of. She said, “Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.”  Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.  I’ve wondered at times if maybe God was answering that prayer a little too literally.  But no matter the challenge, He has been there for all of us.  He’s certainly strengthened me “with the power through his Spirit,” as I’ve sought His guidance not just in my own life but in the life of our nation.

Now, over the last few months, we’ve seen a number of challenges — certainly over the last six years.  But part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.

As we speak, around the world, we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another — to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife.  We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. Brantly and his colleagues have done.  We see faith driving us to do right.

But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.  From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it.  We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism  — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.  Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion.  There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.  In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try.  And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.

And, first, we should start with some basic humility.  I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.

Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.  And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process.  And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.  No God condones terror.  No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.

And so, as people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion — any religion — for their own nihilistic ends.  And here at home and around the world, we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom — freedom of religion — the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.

There’s wisdom in our founders writing in those documents that help found this nation the notion of freedom of religion, because they understood the need for humility.  They also understood the need to uphold freedom of speech, that there was a connection between freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  For to infringe on one right under the pretext of protecting another is a betrayal of both.

But part of humility is also recognizing in modern, complicated, diverse societies, the functioning of these rights, the concern for the protection of these rights calls for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment.  And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — (applause) — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.  Just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t question those who would insult others in the name of free speech.  Because we know that our nations are stronger when people of all faiths feel that they are welcome, that they, too, are full and equal members of our countries.

So humility I think is needed.  And the second thing we need is to uphold the distinction between our faith and our governments.  Between church and between state.  The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world — far more religious than most Western developed countries.  And one of the reasons is that our founders wisely embraced the separation of church and state.  Our government does not sponsor a religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith, or any faith at all.  And the result is a culture where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can freely and proudly worship, without fear, or coercion — so that when you listen to Darrell talk about his faith journey you know it’s real.  You know he’s not saying it because it helps him advance, or because somebody told him to.  It’s from the heart.

That’s not the case in theocracies that restrict people’s choice of faith.  It’s not the case in authoritarian governments that elevate an individual leader or a political party above the people, or in some cases, above the concept of God Himself.  So the freedom of religion is a value we will continue to protect here at home and stand up for around the world, and is one that we guard vigilantly here in the United States.

Last year, we joined together to pray for the release of Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, held in North Korea for two years.  And today, we give thanks that Kenneth is finally back where he belongs — home, with his family.  (Applause.)

Last year, we prayed together for Pastor Saeed Abedini, detained in Iran since 2012.  And I was recently in Boise, Idaho, and had the opportunity to meet with Pastor Abedini’s beautiful wife and wonderful children and to convey to them that our country has not forgotten brother Saeed and that we’re doing everything we can to bring him home.  (Applause.)  And then, I received an extraordinary letter from Pastor Abedini.  And in it, he describes his captivity, and expressed his gratitude for my visit with his family, and thanked us all for standing in solidarity with him during his captivity.

And Pastor Abedini wrote, “Nothing is more valuable to the Body of Christ than to see how the Lord is in control, and moves ahead of countries and leadership through united prayer.”  And he closed his letter by describing himself as “prisoner for Christ, who is proud to be part of this great nation of the United States of America that cares for religious freedom around the world.”  (Applause.)

We’re going to keep up this work — for Pastor Abedini and all those around the world who are unjustly held or persecuted because of their faith.   And we’re grateful to our new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein — who has hit the ground running, and is heading to Iraq in a few days to help religious communities there address some of those challenges.  Where’s David?  I know he’s here somewhere.  Thank you, David, for the great work you’re doing.  (Applause.)

Humility; a suspicion of government getting between us and our faiths, or trying to dictate our faiths, or elevate one faith over another.  And, finally, let’s remember that if there is one law that we can all be most certain of that seems to bind people of all faiths, and people who are still finding their way towards faith but have a sense of ethics and morality in them — that one law, that Golden Rule that we should treat one another as we wish to be treated.  The Torah says “Love thy neighbor as yourself.”  In Islam, there is a Hadith that states: “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”  The Holy Bible tells us to “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  Put on love.

Whatever our beliefs, whatever our traditions, we must seek to be instruments of peace, and bringing light where there is darkness, and sowing love where there is hatred.  And this is the loving message of His Holiness, Pope Francis.  And like so many people around the world, I’ve been touched by his call to relieve suffering, and to show justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable; to walk with The Lord and ask “Who am I to judge?”  He challenges us to press on in what he calls our “march of living hope.”  And like millions of Americans, I am very much looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis to the United States later this year.  (Applause.)

His Holiness expresses that basic law:  Treat thy neighbor as yourself.  The Dalai Lama — anybody who’s had an opportunity to be with him senses that same spirit.  Kent Brantly expresses that same spirit.  Kent was with Samaritan’s Purse, treating Ebola patients in Liberia, when he contracted the virus himself. And with world-class medical care and a deep reliance on faith — with God’s help, Kent survived.  (Applause.)

And then by donating his plasma, he helped others survive as well.  And he continues to advocate for a global response in West Africa, reminding us that “our efforts needs to be on loving the people there.”  And I could not have been prouder to welcome Kent and his wonderful wife Amber to the Oval Office.  We are blessed to have him here today — because he reminds us of what it means to really “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Not just words, but deeds.

Each of us has a role in fulfilling our common, greater purpose — not merely to seek high position, but to plumb greater depths so that we may find the strength to love more fully.  And this is perhaps our greatest challenge — to see our own reflection in each other; to be our brother’s keepers and sister’s keepers, and to keep faith with one another.  As children of God, let’s make that our work, together.

As children of God, let’s work to end injustice — injustice of poverty and hunger.  No one should ever suffer from such want amidst such plenty.  As children of God, let’s work to eliminate the scourge of homelessness, because, as Sister Mary says, “None of us are home until all of us are home.”  None of us are home until all of us are home.

As children of God, let’s stand up for the dignity and value of every woman, and man, and child, because we are all equal in His eyes, and work to send the scourge and the sin of modern-day slavery and human trafficking, and “set the oppressed free.”  (Applause.)

If we are properly humble, if we drop to our knees on occasion, we will acknowledge that we never fully know God’s purpose.  We can never fully fathom His amazing grace.  “We see through a glass, darkly” — grappling with the expanse of His awesome love.  But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required:  To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

I pray that we will.  And as we journey together on this “march of living hope,” I pray that, in His name, we will run and not be weary, and walk and not be faint, and we’ll heed those words and “put on love.”

May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may He bless this precious country that we love.

Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)