May 19, 2005
By Patricia Goldsmith
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1998 was the year I got my first serious inkling that America was
becoming a theocracy. That was when the religious right impeached
Bill Clinton for committing adultery.
Ironically, it was Clinton's me-too-ism which, in large part,
normalized our perception of this radical threat to our core democratic
values, both little "d" and big "D." Clinton's personal success
was built on respecting his political opponents, no matter how much
they reviled him, and adopting Republican positions, economically,
politically, and especially with respect to values. No matter how
far Republicans moved to the right, Clinton was always there to
split the difference with them and present the picture of Democratic
Unfortunately, this meant accepting the theft of the 2000 election
with good grace and glossing over the essential bad faith of this
radical new brand of religio-corporate Republicanism. The corporate
media played their part as well. They never had any trouble calling
Bill Clinton a liar, but to do so with George Bush is, well, blasphemous.
We gave up an awful lot for eight years of Bill Clinton. As Ralph
Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, has famously said,
"I'd rather elect 1000 school board members than one president."
That's where they started: with the school board. The Christian
Coalition trained people at that level to run as stealth candidates.
They deliberately hid their Christian agenda, but once they started
implementing it, it didn't matter to them whether they were re-elected
or not. They concentrated on results.
One result, unimaginable when they began their work decades ago,
is that last week the New York State Assembly introduced a bill
calling for schools in New York to teach creationism - excuse me,
"intelligent design" - as the equal, in intellectual rigor and scientific
validity, of the theory of evolution. Otherwise, the bill says,
by promoting only one theory, we give "the impression that it is
George Bush typifies the deliberate stealth approach to government.
If the first administration was the set-up, his second is the payoff.
The first time around, Bush became the president by means of rioting
Republican staffers and a Republican-dominated Supreme Court; the
second time, Republicans refined and universalized the techniques
of voter fraud and intimidation that worked so well in Florida in
2000. In his first administration, George Bush promised that his
unprecedented tax cuts would stimulate the economy to such a marvelous
extent that no offsetting spending cuts would be necessary. In the
second, the massive - and now permanent - tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy
are driving steep cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and, if Republicans
have their way, Social Security.
But nowhere was Bush's bad faith more evident than in the way
he swerved public rage over the attack of 9/11 onto the completely
unrelated target of Iraq. With the release last week of minutes
from a meeting between Bush and Blair administration officials in
July, 2002 - the so-called Downing Street memo - we have more proof
that George Bush intended to attack Iraq long before he told the
American people of his plans, that he knew Iraq was no threat, and
that the war could not be justified on humanitarian grounds. No
problem: "the intelligence and facts will be fixed around the policy."
This is merely objective, third-party verification of what anyone
who isn't in a coma is able to observe about the way George Bush
operates. He's a liar. His brutality abroad, the ham-fisted, ongoing
plunder of a tenth-rate power, is matched only by the coy brutality
of his culture war here at home. The judiciary is the current target,
and it is here that bad faith politics and the bad faith of churches
in politics converge.
Over the past couple of months, the Bush administration has very
carefully turned up the heat on its core of religious fundamentalists,
in preparation for an aptly named nuclear strike against the independence
of the judiciary. John Cornyn said that violence against members
of the judiciary is understandable; Tom DeLay has openly threatened
judges. There is talk of defunding entire circuits and mass impeachment
of judges. Justice Sunday, Ending the Filibuster Against People
of Faith, and other mass events targeted at the faithful create
enough noise to simulate a popular uprising.
This fundamentalist transformation has taken decades, during which
the Southern Baptist leadership purged non-"Dominionists" and reached
out to other evangelicals to form a formidable coalition of radical-right
churches, even including some synagogues, whose basic tenet is that
they must assume total dominance over our secular government, i.e.
create a theocracy. They have rewritten history so that the Constitution
is no longer an enlightenment document but is overtly based on the
Ten Commandments. They say that the right of judicial review of
laws and the doctrine of separation of church and state are fictions,
denying and defying 200 years of unquestioned consensus around a
quite different interpretation.
This unholy connection is being nourished by money. Lots and lots
of it. At a time when the Catholic Church is paying out untold millions
of dollars to settle pedophilia cases and experiencing a corresponding
drop in contributions from outraged parishioners, Bush's faith money
is more than a blessing. Call me cynical, but I see a direct connection
between this federal bailout and the Catholic Church's pre-election
decree that politicians who support abortion (but not the war in
Iraq) are unworthy to receive communion. Black evangelicals are
climbing on board the gravy train, joining their journalistic (and
entrepreneurial) counterpart, Armstrong Williams.
The attack against the courts is being led, from within, by Justice
Antonin Scalia, a legal fundamentalist and a devout, fundamentalist
Catholic. Scalia says there is only one possible way to interpret
the Constitution, and that is literally, assigning words their accepted
meaning at the time the document was written. Anything else, he
warns shrilly, is chaos and madness! Any other point
of view allows judges to impose their own personal egos and politics
on the law, and that would be very, very wrong.
According to this logic, it is not important to get a mix of opinions
on the Court. On the contrary, everyone must subscribe to only one
tightly-circumscribed, quantifiable reading. Obviously, such an
absolutist position falls apart if there is any exception to the
iron application of this rule.
In Justice Scalia's case, the exception is a whopper: Bush v.
Gore. In that case, Scalia deserted all his guiding principles of
interpretation, ruling against states' rights and writing a one-off
decision that flabbergasted veteran court watchers.
The media, of course, has institutional amnesia about Scalia's
demonstrable - and, according to his own philosophy, dangerous
- bad faith. This is partly because there is another vector of bad
faith: the Democratic leadership. Trained by Bill Clinton, with
Hillary plugged into the center, this leadership has an extremely
truncated ability to act as the opposition party. They adopted a
policy of "allowing no daylight" between them and George Bush's
stand on the war. They voted for his defund-the-government tax cuts.
They caved in on the question of election fraud in 2004, putting
personal ambition above their fiduciary role vis-à-vis democracy.
This is an illegitimate government in every sense. "New" Democrats
have helped muffle the clapper on our public alarm bell, but the
peril is real.
As a secular humanist, I agree with Thomas Jefferson that we all
possess inalienable rights, including the right to the pursuit of
happiness - and if there is any more anti-theocratic civic goal,
I've never heard of it. I believe we grudgingly cede some of our
rights to the state for our own good, not the other way around.
And I do not cede my conscience.
Which makes me think of sailor Pablo Paredes, who was recently
court martialed for a refusal to re-deploy to Iraq. Paredes had
to consider the question of legitimacy very seriously, very urgently.
He knew from international law that a soldier obtains no harbor
from the excuse that he's just following orders. Paredes concluded
that if he returned to Iraq he would be complicit in an illegal
war, which is a war crime. Here's
a link to Paredes's truly inspiring remarks at his sentencing.
Paredes's story has a semi-happy ending: he was broken in rank
and sentenced to three months' hard labor, but he was not imprisoned.
His lawyers, who expected a sentence of nine months, consider this
an incredible victory for the right of individual conscience.
Unlike Pablo Paredes, the country seems to be paralyzed, unwilling
- afraid - to call Bush & Co. on their sheer mendacity. While we
hesitate to cross that line, putting all our faith in our own super-power
of denial, the religious fanatics among us are erasing all the lines.
Asking for abortion records. Threatening judges. Throwing money
around like water to get Diebold voting machines adopted in as many
districts as possible. Rewriting history. Fomenting hatred.
But the courts? That's the big payoff. The permanent fix. The
linked questions of legitimacy and complicity will no longer wait.
The boat is at the dock. We need to decide and act now.
Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a
grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group.
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