Barney Frank, Bible scholar

The Massachusetts Democrat uses a Purim analogy to put Republicans in their place.


Mike Madden
February 13, 2009 9:04PM (UTC)

WASHINGTON -- "Nancy Pelosi is not Haman, Barack Obama is not King Ahashuerus, and John Boehner is certainly not Queen Esther."

That was Rep. Barney Frank's verdict this morning, at a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, on Republican attempts to make voters believe they love President Obama as much as anyone else does, but that the evil Democratic Congress keeps making the White House do wrong. Of course, Barney Frank being Barney Frank, he used the Purim analogy with little introduction and no explanation. (The media being the media, most reporters in the room got it.)

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As religious allusions go, though, it wasn't bad. The Purim villain, Haman, maliciously turns the benevolent but somewhat naive ruler of Persia against the good guys -- in the original, the Jews, but in the GOP version à la Frank, Republicans. In the story, Esther (the queen of Persia, but also Jewish) persuades the king not to carry out Haman's plot to kill her people. Admittedly, even the GOP has not claimed, so far at least, that Democrats are actually trying to kill Republicans, but if the 2010 elections go anything like the last two, they might begin to believe it. And throughout the debate over the $789 billion stimulus package Congress is expected to pass today, Republicans have taken great pains to portray themselves as Obama's true allies, victimized by the malevolent counsel House and Senate Democrats have been giving the president.

But the analogy got us at Salon thinking of other Old Testament stories that could be applied to the first few weeks of the Obama administration. After all, John McCain's campaign mockingly compared Obama to Moses last summer, in a Web ad some observers thought was intended to call the Democratic candidate a false prophet. The New Yorker's David Remnick sees Obama more as Joshua than as Moses, but either way, the biblical comparisons are already getting fairly elaborate. So we figured we'd come up with a few more.

There's Judd Gregg, the conservative Republican who briefly agreed to serve as Obama's Commerce secretary. Allowing some poetic license, let's make him Jacob, who fooled his father into giving him the blessings that rightfully should have gone to his brother Esau by putting goat skins on his arms to pose as the more hirsute sibling. Of course, in our modern Bible story, Jacob then casts off the goat skins, walks out of the tent and gives a bizarre, rambling press conference where he says he never wanted the blessing in the first place, but hey, turning religion into current affairs is an art, not a science.

And there's the modern-day Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego -- played last week by Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter, the three Republicans who joined with Democrats to pass the stimulus bill through the Senate. In the original version, the three protagonists are cast into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to Babylonian gods. That is, more or less, what GOP leaders would like to do to the three defectors, who are -- at least until later today -- the only Republicans to vote for the stimulus bill in either chamber.

Trying to come up with even just those examples made us realize how clever Frank's Purim analogy really was; sure, it wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good for an impromptu quip. Can you do any better? Leave your favorite Old Testament (or New Testament) political parables below.

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Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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