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

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?

Tom Cotton got over $2.1 million in campaign ad support from pro-Israel donors

The NY Times is running a story on how contributions from a small group of single-issue mega-wealthy donors is impacting the Republican party’s stance on Israel.

GOP’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift

Donors say the trend toward Republicans among wealthy, hawkish contributors is at least partly responsible for inspiring stronger support for Israel among party lawmakers who already had pro-Israel views.

Cough. No shit Sherlock. Cough.

The Emergency Committee for Israel, led by William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, spent $960,000 to support Mr. Cotton. In that same race, a firm run by Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire from New York and a leading donor to pro-Israel causes, contributed $250,000 to Arkansas Horizon, another independent expenditure group supporting Mr. Cotton. Seth Klarman, a Boston-based pro-Israel billionaire, contributed $100,000 through his investment firm.The political action committee run by John Bolton, the United Nations ambassador under President George W. Bush and an outspoken supporter of Israel, spent at least $825,000 to support Mr. Cotton. That PAC is in part financed by other major pro-Israel donors, including Irving and Cherna Moskowitz of Miami, who contributed 99 percent of their $1.1 million in 2012 races to Republican candidates and causes.

In other news Senator Cotton’s spokesman denied his letter writing campaign was in any way quid pro quo for this support.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, said this relatively small group of very wealthy Jewish-Americans distorted the views among Jews nationwide who remain supportive of the Democratic Party and a more nuanced relationship with Israel.“The very, very limited set of people who do their politics simply through the lens of Israel — that small group is tilting more heavily Republican now,” he said, adding, “But it is dangerous for American politics as too many people do not understand that of the six million American Jews, this is only a handful.”

Which brings me to the real news in this story. The portion of the liberal establishment that is Jewish (including enough NY Times editors to matter) seems to be breaking big time from the current Israeli administration’s policies.

Uh, did I mention the story’s going to be on the first page of Sunday’s paper?

Or that J Street gets top billing in the story? Looks like the Times is ready to help them boost their profile.

“Israel did not traditionally represent that kind of emotional focus for any element of the Republican Party,” (Geoffrey Kabaservice, a Republican Party historian) said. “But the feeling now is that it is a winning issue, as it helps them to appear strong on foreign policy.”

“Appearing strong” as opposed to being sensible. I’m glad to hear both houses of Congress have majorities who’re focused on appearances rather than substance.

Over all, the most significant contributor by far to Republican supporters of Israel has been Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, who with his wife has invested at least $100 million in conservative causes over the last four years. A large chunk was spent on the 2012 presidential campaign, but Senate Republicans also benefited, and could soon again, particularly those considering a run for president.

The shift has also meant the Republican Party today accepts little dissent on the topic of Israel, said Scott McConnell, a founding editor of The American Conservative, an outcome he believes is in part driven by the demands of financial supporters.“Republicans interested in foreign policy used to understand that it was not in America’s national interest to ignore entirely Arab claims against Israel,” he said. “Now, there is a fanatical feeling of one-sidedness.”

“I know there has been all this fervent speculation that Tom Cotton and Bill Kristol and Sheldon Adelson were at some private room at the Venetian cooking this up,” said Noah Pollak, the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, referring to Mr. Adelson’s casino in Las Vegas, where many prominent Republicans and Jewish leaders will gather this month. “But Tom is a smart guy and has a long record of thinking about the Middle East, and he is entrepreneurial. Tom wrote this letter.”

In other words, it may not be in the country’s interest. And it may not even be in the Republican party’s long-term interest. But it sure as shit was in Tom Cotton’s interest to write the letter.

Also, he’s an “entrepreneur”. Which is funny, I thought he was a United States Senator. But apparently lobbyists know him as an “entrepreneur”, and presumably one who knows you’ve got to watch that top-line sales/revenue number. But to have sales you’ve got to be selling something. So what exactly does Tom Cotton have that’s for sale?

Meanwhile, Chemi Shalev reminds us in Haaretz that “The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference”. In that Netanyahu faces new danger in U.S. following Iran deal: Being ignored. That’s in reference to Bibi’s demand that no nuclear deal with Iran be signed till Iran recognizes Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel introduced a new demand Friday for the final phase of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, saying the completed deal must include an “unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.”

Asked on Friday about Mr. Netanyahu’s new demand, a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, told reporters in Washington that the negotiations with Iran on the agreement were “only about the nuclear issue.”

I guess that is State Department speak for “It’s our policy not to feed the trolls”.

And lastly, Peter Beinart looks at The three benefits of ending the U.S.’s cold war with Iran

First, it could reduce American dependence on Saudi Arabia. Before the fall of the shah in 1979, the United States had good relations with both Tehran and Riyadh, which meant America wasn’t overly reliant on either. Since the Islamic Revolution, however, Saudi Arabia has been America’s primary oil-producing ally in the Persian Gulf. After 9/11, when 19 hijackers—15 of them Saudis—destroyed the Twin Towers, many Americans realized the perils of so great a dependence on a country that was exporting so much pathology.

As many have noted, Iran is in many ways our natural ally in the region. For instance, as Beinart pointed out earlier, unlike the Saudis, Iran’s ayatollahs actually permit elections that involve quite vigorous debate.

It could empower the Iranian people vis-à-vis their repressive state. American hawks, addled by the mythology they have created around Ronald Reagan, seem to think that the more hostile America’s relationship with Iran’s regime becomes, the better the United States can promote Iranian democracy. But the truth is closer to the reverse.
[…]
As Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick recently noted, Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guards “thrive on hostile relations with the U.S., and benefit hugely from sanctions, which allow them to control smuggling.” But “if the sanctions are lifted, foreign companies come back in, [and] the natural entrepreneurialism of Iranians is unleashed.” Thus “if you want regime change in Iran, meaning changing the way the regime operates, this kind of agreement is the best way to achieve that goal.”

Finally, ending the cold war with Iran may make it easier to end the civil wars plaguing the Middle East. Cold wars are rarely “cold” in the sense that no one gets killed. They are usually proxy wars in which powerful countries get local clients to do the killing for them. America’s cold war with the U.S.S.R. ravaged countries like Angola and El Salvador. And today, America’s cold war with Iran is ravaging Syria and Yemen.

I think Beinart makes the last two hugely complex issues seem too neat. But at least he’s bringing them up, so he should get points for enriching the discourse. Seems to be doing a better job than some of our Senators

99 Red Balloons & John Bolton: Why the Republicans have lost me for a generation

It’s Sunday morning and I’m up with my 2 year old who woke up this morning chanting “I Love Balloons, I Love Balloons!” We were at a baby shower yesterday where she got a balloon as a gift, and our neighbor’s little boy gave her another one as we got home.

So I’m singing “I Love Balloons” with her and then I ask her whether she wants to hear the Balloon song? She doesn’t know what I’m talking about, but says “Yes!” anyway.

I have Nena’s original in German (99 Luftballons) and Bjork’s version (99 Red Balloons). I play them both to her and as I’m listening to them, and watching my daughter dancing around with her two balloons (neither of which are red) I think of the lyrics.

The song is about 99 balloons which are mistaken for a UFO and then interpreted as an attack by a military installation. They start a war that destroys the city. As the singer observes the devastation 99 years later, she launches a single red balloon to commemorate what was there. The song was written in Berlin during the Cold War when fears of a war launched in error were real. It was written about a year after the Iran hostage crisis ended.

My mind turned to John Bolton’s Op-Ed in last weekend’s NY Times: To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.

And then it hit me. There are only two type of politicians in the world. Those who want war, and those who don’t. That is all that matters in the end when it comes to politics.

I don’t want my two year old experiencing war. Ever.

I don’t want any two year old experiencing war. Anywhere.

Especially not a war cheered on by chicken-hawks who are happy to send someone else’s kids to fight and die while their friends profit from restocking our ammunition depots.

I’m an independent, but the Republicans have lost me for a generation. They’ve lost me till they elect leaders who don’t consider “anti-war” a slur.

So screw you John “Chicken” Bolton for supporting the war in Vietnam but avoiding deployment by enlisting in the national guard. We know you had “no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy” but were willing to support a war that sent thousands of other Americans to do just that and killed millions of people. And screw you Dick “Chicken” Cheney for avoiding the draft with five consecutive deferments and lying with relish to get us into the Iraq war. I’m sure chickens are insulted when they’re compared to you. And screw you 87% of Republican Senators who want to undercut a President trying to avoid war.

I won’t be voting for a Republican for a long time, not even one running for town dog-catcher. Because I want every parent, including those in Iran, to be able to spend a lazy Sunday morning with their kids rather than dodging bombs and bullets.

ਚੁ ਕਾਰ ਅਜ਼ ਹਮਹ ਹੀਲਤੇ ਦਰ ਗੁਜ਼ਸ਼ਤ ॥ ਹਲਾਲ ਅਸਤ ਬੁਰਦਨ ਬ ਸ਼ਮਸ਼ੀਰ ਦਸਤ

When everything else has failed. Then, and only then, is it just to raise the sword.
– Guru Gobind Singh

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.)