Friday, October 25, 2013

Partisan Politics, Part II

     There are many plausible reasons for the media’s hatred of the Republican Party. Chief among these, in my view, is the Republicans’ embrace of the Religious Right. Nothing so antagonizes the intelligentsia as Biblical literalism does, as well it might. The God of the Bible endorses slavery, genocide, child sexual mutilation, the subjugation of women, and the damnation of everyone, no matter how otherwise praiseworthy, who does not ultimately confess his or her faith in an implausible savior. It is understandable that educated Americans would begin their search for political affinity with this question: How can I, a thinking and decent person, count as allies people who accept all the evil in the Bible as the literal word of God? Most in our universities and the media are unwilling to do so. Well, so far I cannot blame them. On the other hand, the Republicans are not wrong about everything. Unfortunately, the natural partisanship of human beings too easily yields a politics of simple opposition: What my enemy endorses I must oppose. Since the Republicans endorse and accept the Religious Right, I—so reasons the intelligent Leftist—must oppose the Republicans on everything.

     It is for this reason I have come to believe that the Religious Right is dooming the Republican Party. Perhaps, if the Republicans divest themselves of the fundamentalists, they will stand a chance of fair reportage. Realistically, it may be too late in the day for that. Alternatively, they could make it their business to recapture the media and the universities and the courts—the Long Campaign—but I do not see them even making the attempt. Short of that, and the odds are anyway still pretty long, they will simply have to abandon the Biblical literalists and their fellow travellers. The Earth was not created in six days; Adam was not made of mud; Eve was not made from Adam’s rib; there was no worldwide flood; Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed by God in punishment for homosexuality; sex is not a sin; and any text that approves what Joshua did to Jericho, or that fails to condemn slavery, or that prescribes stoning for adultery, or that endorses everlasting torment, was not inspired by a God worthy of worship—these must be planks on a new Republican platform.  Otherwise, the Republicans are likely to calcify into a religious millstone that drags down sound fiscal policy.

     But come on. Who can realistically believe Republicans will accept that evolutionary science is the best explanation we have for the diversity of life, that modern cosmology is likewise the best explanation for the development of the universe, and that the whole-hearted pursuit of science is our best hope of solving the mysteries that remain? It may be enough to adopt a “separate magisteria” approach and promote religion as an alternative to government charity. Given human nature, we will not be rid of religion any time soon. On the other hand, the ease with which the Leftist denominations seem to be accommodating the new consensus on sexual morality is surprisingly hopeful. Some of the faithful hold their convictions lightly, it seems, to the benefit of humanity. Thus, a winning and charismatic Republican leader might just manage to detach the party from its religious base. Imagine if Ronald Reagan had embraced science and rejected fundamentalism near the end of his first term, when there was morning in America. The trouble is, no Republican can be elected without the Religious Right these days. Ironically, we may have already reached the point where no Republican can be elected with the Religious Right, either.

     What does all this portend for our present difficulties? The best that we can hope for may be a diminution of Republican power to the point there is no longer any reason not to jettison the fundamentalists. The Republicans may have to fall all the way down before they build themselves back up, as, possibly, non-isolationist Libertarians without the mythology of gold. Then, perhaps, the merits of their economic proposals would no longer get lost in the glare of their Bronze Age religious commitments. If not, then we are in danger of real dislocation. As things stand, neither party can compromise in a helpful way. Democrats cannot abandon the entitlement voters, and Republicans cannot abandon the religious dupes. This looks like a recipe for chaos. And after chaos, as the Optimates and Populares ultimately learned, comes Cæsar.


  1. Interesting, if depressing, analysis.

    Another thing which hasn't helped conservatives generally is that the economic predictions of their favoured experts (e.g. about inflation) haven't (yet?) been fulfilled. And the US debt problem is a long-term one. (I still think the Austrians will be proved more or less right in the end however.)

    On the question of religion, although it used to be unusual for political leaders (aspiring or otherwise) to bring private beliefs into public political discussion and debate (except in a minimalist sort of way – i.e. being open about one's personal religious affiliation), this was in the context of a much more conservative legal framework which did not unduly discomfort those with religiously-inspired conservative views.

    You could see the outspokenness of religious conservatives as having been precipitated by what they see as radical and threatening social and legal changes. But, as you suggest, their dominant presence within the GOP is politically disastrous.

  2. Hitchens used to talk about the shrillness of the Religious Right as a sign of desperation, and it is true the "nones" are the fastest growing "religion" in America. In a sense, the GOP establishment could be seen to have already taken the lesson. Both of the last two nominees were religious moderates (though Romney's faith remained a polarizing issue).

    Regarding the openness of candidates 40 years ago on the topic of their faith, one explanation I've run across is that the significant differences in the past were among denominations of Christianity rather than between theists and non theists. I choose to be optimistic about the meaning of that shift.

  3. I've read this three times now & finally have something to say.
    1) If GOP really can't win while embracing the evangelical right, but also can't win without them, then it makes no difference if they're jettisoned or not. The calculus would be, which strategy loses worse. All else being equal, though, the evangelical vote might be crucial to the GOP but it might not be lost even if the party doesn't court it (see 2 and 3).
    2) The recent elections, seen correctly, tell us clearly the great majority of people want to steer the lefties to the right and the righties to the left -- we want politicians of all stripes to move towards the middle. One way for the GOP to move to center is to jettison the Christian Right. (Just in: Even the Pope is telling bishops not to get hung up on abortion, birth control and gay marriage -- and he's just playing catch-up with the beliefs of the laity.)
    3) The best way to deal with the Christian Right in the GOP, if they are a liability (and I agree they are), is to ignore them. Studiously. Leave their planks out of the next national platform -- completely. Stonewall them. Would they leave and become Democrats? Nope. They'd vote for the most conservative candidates on the ballot.
    4) Obama got a lot of grief for his "guns 'n bibles" comment in the 2008 election but he almost never gives a speech today without saying "God" at least once. It costs him nothing on election day. The evangelical fundamentalist can be thankful for a politician who at least does not reject religion, if there is no alternative. Courting these believers, however, is a liability. Therefore see 2 and 3.
    5) The religious vote their pocketbooks like everybody else. The GOP needs to rebrand itself as the party of economic progress -- getting the gov's fiscal house in order. Rooting out corruption. Getting bang for every buck spent. Taxing as little as possible while delivering basic services, meanwhile turning off the public tit.
    6) The under-30 voter is more likely to be Libertarian than Republican. Think about that next election cycle. What they like is "freedom" in the personal sphere and "responsibility" in the public sphere.

  4. A person walks the middle of the road, they get abused from both sides. The Far left and the far right are not all that different at all, they are just in opposing ditches, and they seek to polarize all of us. We try not to let it affect us, but it does. As you stated in a previous paragraph, I see no real clear reason to drop the term Conservative. The Christian Right thinks they own the Republican party and that is just what they want you to think. Do not fall for that. They have never owned it. I imagine there were Anti-Federalists of a Deist mind at the beginning who very clearly pushed for the separation of church and state, and some of them may have been just as anti-Christian as Paine and Jefferson and others. We all here know of the monstrosities of the Bible and the Christian Right that need addressing. And please make no mistake about it, I am bitter, enraged, hostile too. I have been ostracized and ridiculed by the Christian Right, and I am an ex-Christian Right. Is it all bad? Does some good not come from the Christian Right? We depend on them come election season. I have had Christians come through for me at times, and even though I am secular, secular types never come through for me. I greatly wish. So, I was hoping that small scale ecumenism with the Christian Right would be on the table. We could drop the hatchet for an hour to accomplish shared goals? Is this possible? Is there hope for dialogue? I could be wrong and I do not know. They never owned the Republican Party, they never will, and now is far from the time for us, the Secular Right to just throw in the towel and let them have it. Oh, no-no-no-no. Hell No!!! Let me also remind you of Goldwater who said some of the very same things you have been saying today. I know we strongly disagree with Goldwater on numerous points but he was Conservative Republican and he warned the Evangelicals would ruin the party. All of this political b.s. we are discussing today has been going on probably since ancient Rome, nothing is new. Lets not throw in the towel. If we can, lets use dialogue and ecumenism with the Christian Right, for everyone's advantage, not just our own, as well as our own voice. Please let me know of your take.