Faith-Based vs. Reality-Based America
Copyright © 2004 by Stephen W. Potts. All rights reserved.
Last October 17, New York Times journalist Ron Suskind published a now widely circulated article entitled “Without a Doubt” which moved him to the top of the White House enemies list. For those unfortunates who haven’t seen it: it details the history of George W. Bush‘s intellectual laziness, and how that morphed into gut-instinct, faith-based certainty after September 11, 2001. W. came to regard himself as a tool of God’s will, and his administration of neoconservatives, Republican totalitarians, and religious fanatics, not to mention the entire Bush League in the nation at large, embraced the notion of presidential infallibility. As true believers, He and His are not subject to trivial things like facts, natural law, and reality.
One now oft-quoted passage in which Suskind interviews a White House aide deserves reiteration here:
The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”
This anecdote dramatically highlights the true philosophical split epitomized on November 2 — not just that between red and blue, conservative and liberal, religious and secular. Ultimately, the contrasting colors on our electoral map mark a continental divide between those who prefer the real world and those who don’t.
We have heard much over the last four years about the importance of the faith-based community to George W., and their turnout in November has been credited for the three percentage points that copped him another term. Exit pollsters were struck by the number of people who chose “moral values” as their primary basis for their votes, trumping other categories like the war in Iraq, the economy, and the direction the country is headed, all of which came up negative for the Tool-in-Chief. This result certainly suggests that concrete, real-world issues took a rumble seat to the more amorphous and self-defined “values,” though in fact all of us who went to the polls voted our values. Whatever the reason, despite Bush’s overwhelming negatives in the pre-election polls, the slender majority took a leap of faith.
Since the election, pioneer rightwing activist Richard Viguerie has loudly claimed the mandate exclusively for the Christian Right. He and others like Bob Jones of the eponymous university have put their fellow Republicans on notice — in writing — that they expect their long-awaited Radical Right Revolution to take place in this Congress. At the top of their Ten Commandments: the appointment of judges who will promptly overturn Roe v. Wade, a constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage and civil unions, a national ban on all stem cell research, and federally mandated school voucher programs that will allow religious schools to tap tax dollars. No argument, no compromise, no foot-dragging. This is the familiar agenda, of course, that has so many of us thinking about emigration, secession, strong drink, and civil disobedience.
Here, however, is where we in the reality-based community need to look at the facts. The glass just might be 49 percent full.
Viguerie and other social conservatives have drawn their first trench in the sand by ordering the Bush administration to prevent Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter from taking his turn as chair of the Judiciary Committee. They are openly worried that Specter, whom they consider a liberal for his long-held pro-choice stance, would block the appointment of anti-Roe v. Wade judges. Although Specter has assured the Right that he would not stand against the Elect’s wishes, these rightwing Christians are uniquely unforgiving. Then again, if Specter maintains his office because he is viewed by Pennsylvanians as a moderate, can he afford to ignore the wishes of his own constituents to assuage the radicals of South Carolina and Texas?
Indeed, how can any Republican moderate in the Senate, like Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island or Olympia Snow of Maine, stop representing their blue states to pursue the agenda of the Bible Belt? Jim Jeffords of Vermont felt forced to bolt his party four years ago and now votes with the Democrats more often than not. Moderate Republicans may be impelled to do the same if pressed. Otherwise, it is not impossible that northern Republicans could become as rare in the future Senate as southern Democrats. Recall that when the Oregon Republican Party tried to replace their own moderate Mark Hatfield with a right wingnut, Oregonians elected the Democrat instead.
Along the same lines, those of us who live in California will watch with guarded amusement should a ban on stem cell research actually be taken up by the bent-right Congress. After all, California’s voters just approved three billion dollars in seed money to make the state the homeland of stem cell research in this hemisphere, an initiative strongly supported by our Gauleiter Schwarzenegger and the business/biotech community. It would be fun to see the christofascists challenge the power of the Schwarz. Which will ultimately win, states’ rights or the jackbooted thugs of D.C.? I can hardly wait.
As for the other high moral matter of this election: despite all the rightwing pants-wetting over gay marriage and the eleven state propositions passed against it, polls continue to show that the majority of Americans, in both red and blue states, tend to take a live-and-let-live approach to the lifestyle. Even W. has suggested that he does not consider civil unions out of line, words that must give comfort to his V.P.’s daughter. While the Bible Belt may treat same-sex unions as the miscegenation of the new century — and why, since the couplers are not even different? — California, once again, is poised to expand rights for gays and lesbians come January 2005. The nation as a whole can look forward confidently to many more seasons of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Will and Grace. You can’t stop progress.
The Christian Right’s dream of an American theocracy — an Iran of the West — founders ironically upon another bedrock of Bush’s faith-based regime. Grover Norquist, longtime anti-tax zealot who has wormed his way firmly into the heart of the Republican Party, has always made clear his ultimate goal: to kill off the U.S. government. Funny — when the Left of the 60s said the same, they were decried as traitors in the conservative press and hounded by the F.B.I. Norquist has sold his goods to the GOP on the grounds that a government starved to death cannot regulate and that when D.C. goes the Democratic Party will go too. This is rather like burning down your condo because you don’t like the neighbors.
We have seen the Norquist agenda at work in the massive tax cuts and corporate givebacks that have left the treasury ringing hollowly with record deficits. And there are more to come. At the top of the Bush agenda are such items as making his last term’s tax cuts permanent and draining Social Security by transferring funds to the Wall Street gambling industry. As one-time Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich noted recently on public radio’s Marketplace, Bush has never vetoed a spending bill sent up by his Republican Congress. There are a lot of GOP districts to reward, and the South in particular loves pork. Reich agrees with many in the financial community, including increasingly worried traditional conservatives, that the deficit may reach a trillion dollars by the end of the Bush presidency, with no prospects of paying it off.
Deficits may not matter to Dick Cheney, but they still matter to international investors. A dollar attached to skyrocketing deficits looks like a bad investment — which is why the greenback is falling against the euro, against the yen, and even against the Canadian dollar. A cheap dollar should be good for exports, but our trade imbalance has never been worse. We have become a nation of consumers, not producers. The administration’s current wisdom is to balance our ballooning public debt with ballooning consumer debt.
And then there is the war. You know which war — the one that the cowardly French and Germans and the traitorous dissident community in the U.S. insisted was a bad idea. Although we can still kill ten or twenty of theirs for every one of ours, we’ll run out of troops before they run out of Muslims. Halliburton continues to pocket billions, while at home charity drives are launched to collect food and armor for the troops. And the administration still stays the course in Iraq, steering firmly for the precipice, on faith — a faith which many elected to share on November 2 despite the deepening suspicion that even Rambo couldn’t win this one.
In fact, this is a good time to remember that exactly forty years ago, Lyndon B. Johnson was re-elected by a landslide that makes 2004 look like a tie, and that he returned to the White House with a Democratic majority in Congress that the Republicans can still only envy. In his inauguration, he launched “The Great Society,” an ambitious program which was going to solve all of America’s remaining problems and put an indelible Democratic stamp on the century. Then Vietnam happened.
Even some of the crankiest old conservatives have come around. William F. Buckley has said that if he had known what he knows now, he would have opposed the war. George Will has complained that any government incapable of thinking or having second thoughts is incapable of governing. This is a good time to say, “We told you so.” Robert A. George, another paleocon, writes in the October 25 New Republic that a “more fundamental betrayal arises from the administration’s central focus: an ill-defined ‘war on terror’ that has no determinable endpoint and that is used to justify an unprecedented expansion of executive power.”
I am not just whistling in the Dark Ages or reveling in Schadenfreude. We must continue to oppose vigorously the retrograde radicals who would drag us backward to the future. But we in the opposition have an advantage. The Bush League has ceded reality to us.