Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rudy, the Values Slayer

"Rudy, the Values Slayer" is the title of a piece in the NY Times this past Sunday, by Frank Rich, a columnist whose criticism of the current administration and its extremist political base has been generally insightful, often devastating and always well-written and entertaining.
On Sunday, Rich pointed to the inexplicable success of Rudy Giuliani in the race for the Republican nomination. A New Yorker with a long track record of tolerance for gays and illegal immigrants, support for reproductive rights, an antipathy to guns, and a messy marital and family track record, Rudy is not exactly the "moral values" poster child, as envisioned by the likes of Robertson and Dobson -- that is to say, the very people who claimed kingmaker status after each of the last two presidential elections.

Read the article, if you have time -- here is my favorite part:

The Values Voter Summit’s survey of the attendees’ presidential preferences showed just as large a disconnect. Rudy Giuliani came in next to last (behind Tom Tancredo, ahead of John McCain) in the field of nine candidates, earning only 1.85 percent of the vote.

By contrast, among white evangelicals nationwide in the CBS News poll, he was in a statistical dead heat for first place with Fred Thompson; indeed, Mr. Giuliani’s 26 percent among evangelicals nearly matches his showing among all Republican voters. The discrepancy between the CBS poll and the summit survey leaves you wondering who exactly follows Dr. Dobson and Mr. Perkins beyond the ticket buyers who showed up for their media circus last weekend at the Washington Hilton.

I remember the day after Kerry conceded, listening to the radio and hearing some preacher insisting that Bush would have to give the religious right everything it wanted - everything. I was also reminded of the blog Baghdad Burning, in which the author described the imposition of Sharia law in her neighborhood and recognized that the "liberation" of Iraq was not at all what the word suggested. Could American fundamentalism be as real a threat to me as Muslim fundamentalists are to any third world Arab?

John C. Danforth, a distinguished Republican stateman and an ordained minister, wrote this (NY Times Op-Ed March 30, 2005) :

By a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians. The elements of this transformation have included advocacy of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposition to stem cell research involving both frozen embryos and human cells in petri dishes, and the extraordinary effort to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube.

Standing alone, each of these initiatives has its advocates, within the Republican Party and beyond. But the distinct elements do not stand alone. Rather they are parts of a larger package, an agenda of positions common to conservative Christians and the dominant wing of the Republican Party.

Christian activists, eager to take credit for recent electoral successes, would not be likely to concede that Republican adoption of their political agenda is merely the natural convergence of conservative religious and political values. Correctly, they would see a causal relationship between the activism of the churches and the responsiveness of Republican politicians...

Christine Todd Whitman, former Governor of New Jersey and former EPA Administrator under the current President, made a similar argument in her book: ''It's My Party, Too: The Battle for the Heart of the G.O.P. and the Future of America'' -- in which she warned that the Republican embrace of far right social policies would marginalize the party. The GOP were in no mood to listen to her at the time (published January 31, 2005 - safely after the 2004 election).

I do hope with all my heart that Giuliani's recent success is an indicator that my worst fears, and those of men like John Danforth, may now be set to rest on the back burner - if not quite discarded altogether. Something else Danforth wrote in an Op Ed in the NY Times, in June 2005, comes to mind as well.

He wrote:

In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality.

I do not think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two.

As an atheist, I have noted that believers are taken aback at the anger and ridicule that has been heaped on faith in recent years by authors such as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins. As if we did not live in an era in which political Islam has not set the world afire with terrorism and jihad. As if a cartoon in a Danish newspaper had not resulted in rioting and death. As if the Christian Right had not seriously eroded the tradition of church-state separation in the United States and threatened to usurp the last best hope of liberty in a troubled world.

Of course we are fighting back. We have been pushed to the wall by people whose ignorance of our great cultural and political traditions is only eclipsed by their aggressive and moronic superstition.

So I have noted the embedded insanity of the GOP presidential campaign, with deep satisfaction and outward glee. Giuliani, the creep who had to be told by a Judge that he could not bring his girlfriend home to sleep over at Gracie Mansion while his wife and kids still lived there, is the first act of this comedy.

Then there is Romney, whose Mormonism will be a real challenge for the good Christian folks who have no idea what Mormons believe (and will be shocked when they find out) - as an atheist, I really will enjoy hearing one set of true-believers mocking the faith of other true-believers (it is bound to happen).

Finally, there is Huckabee - who should be the darling of the religious crowd, but has been rejected as too compassionate! Even as these religious conservatives mull over the bitter choice between Giuliani the lapsed Catholic and Romney the Mormon, these nutjobs have indicated they might bolt if Huckabee is named as the Republican nominee's running mate (h/t Noam Scheiber in TNR). That's right - he isn't fit to even be VP!

The craziness continues. But there is reason to hope that we are close to the end of this funhouse ride, and that rational, competent people may come to replace the ideologues and extremist hacks that have dominated government for the past 7 years.

All of this looniness will wrap up in November 2008 in a landslide Democratic victory, and some new thinking among leading Republicans will arise from the ashes. I hope they will take the opportunity to consider the advice of John Danforth and Christine Todd Whitman.


gljunket said...

Remarkable!! You and I are living proof that two very different people, coming from all kinds of different positions and perspectives can be in total agreement. Count me in your column on the message of this post. We could be "the ticket" for the Post Partisan Party. I've moved from Independence and Centrism to Anti-Polarization (see my last couple of entries). Let's set aside our differences and find real leaders who can govern this country.

Neil said...

One of my tamer fantasies is that the Republican Party will one day return to the center, abandon its anti-scientific and anti-intellectual biases, and adopt policies rooted in fact-based pragmatism, realistic economic stewardship, maintenance of a strong military, and preservation of individual liberties.

In short, the GOP of Gerald Ford, Tom Kean, Christine Todd Whitman, and Michael Bloomberg (the last, arguably a Democrat in Republican clothing) -- people I could vote for.

However, I don't see that fantasy being realized any time soon. We'll see - maybe the next election will provide the motivation for a re-positioning.
The extremists need a good spanking before moderates will be able to take power.

Till then, I think the polarization has to continue.

It is like white blood cells - they have to keep fighting till the infection is destroyed. The Republicans have introduced some serious germs into the national body, and we are going to have to work on fixing the damage.

People are going to have to be held accountable for what has happened here for the past seven years. Else we will only encourage others to do the same.

Partisan politics is the only effective remedy to over-reaching and abuse of power by the governing party. It has always been so. We need a large batch of tar and feathers for these miscreants, and then - once the bums have been dealt with - we can move beyond the partisanship.

I read yesterday how the CEO of Citigroup has resigned due to poor corporate results, and I thought to myself that we might already be in our post-partisanship mode here in America if the President had resigned in 2005 when it was clear that he had failed in Iraq.

But he has not and he will not. So we still need the white blood cells to work on this infection that threatens our national security, our liberties, and our prosperity.

We are not yet ready for post-partisan politics.