Democratic Underground

Bad Faith

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 reasonableness.

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 truth."

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--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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