Four More Wars
Like many of you, I suspect, I am sick with grief. Truly physically ill.
51% of our fellow Americans have spoken, and they have said, essentially (I’m tempering this because I know my mother is reading), “screw you!” to the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis who have lost their lives in an illegal war, and “screw you!” to the thousands of Americans who have sent loved ones to Iraq to be maimed or killed in service to a president who has been planning this “essential part of the war on terror” since he was a governor, and “screw you!” to the tens of thousands of Americans who have lost jobs and healthcare and to the thousands of families slipping into poverty monthly, they have said “screw it!” to the environment…
Or wait! Maybe they haven’t really said exactly that, because that would require knowing Bush’s positions and achievements… and we’ve already seen that 70% of Bush supporters don’t. Which means that some mindblowing portion of the 51% of Americans who voted for Bush really and truly voted for him only because he says he’s a Christian (albeit one who apparently reads an abridged Bible that includes nothing about caring for the poor and working for peace), and because homosexuals are the single greatest threat to their own security and wellbeing.
It’s an ugly reality to wake up to – the reality that 51% of your fellow citizens don’t care about their fellow citizens, nationwide or (certainly not!) globally; that they rank posturing and platitudes about “values” (of which there are really only two – a “reverence” for life that ends abruptly at birth, and a deepseated, irrational loathing of homosexuality) above all other concerns.
To quote Robert Byrd, protesting the declaration of pre-emptive war on Iraq, “today, I weep for my country.”
I really can’t bear to look at much news today, but there are a few things to share…
- You were expecting, maybe, humility? Bush declares his 51% win “a broad, nationwide victory.” Yes, do please read that again: “a broad, nationwide victory.” 51% to 49%. Cheney says they have a “mandate.”
- The Right God. The hell with it; I’m going to paste Sidney Blumenthal’s Salon column right here:
“This country is going so far to the right you are not even going to recognize it,” remarked John Mitchell, President Nixon’s attorney general, in 1970. Mitchell’s prophesy became the mission of Nixon’s College Republican president, Karl Rove, who implemented the strategy of authoritarian populism behind George W. Bush’s victory.
In the aftermath, Democrats will form their ritual circular firing squad of recriminations. But, finally, the loss was not due to their candidate’s personality, the flaws of this or that advisor or the party’s platform. The Democrats surprised themselves at their ability to raise tens of millions of dollars, inspire hundreds of thousands of activists, spawn extensive new organizations, attract icons of popular culture and present themselves as unified around a centrist position. Expectations were not dashed. Turnout vastly increased among African-Americans and Hispanics. More than 60 percent of the newly registered voters went for John Kerry. Those concerned about the economy voted overwhelmingly for him; so did those citing the war in Iraq as an issue. But the surge of the Democrats was more than matched.
Using the White House as a machine of centripetal force, Rove spread fear and fused its elements. Fear of the besieging terrorist, appearing in Bush campaign TV ads as the shifty eyes of a swarthy man or a pack of wolves, was joined with fear of the besieging queer. Bush’s announcement that he favored a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was underscored by referendums against it in 11 states, including Ohio — all of which won.
The evangelical churches became instruments of political organization. Ideology was enforced as theology, turning nonconformity into sin, and the faithful, following voter guides with biblical literalism, were shepherded to the polls as though to the rapture. White Protestants, especially in the South, especially married men, gave their souls and votes for flag and cross.
The campaign was one long camp meeting, a revival. Abortion and stem cell research became a lever for prying loose white Catholics. (Rove’s designated Catholic leader, his own political pontiff, had to resign in disgrace after being exposed for sexual harassment, but this was little reported and had no effect.) To help in Florida, a referendum was put on the ballot to deny young women the right to abortion without parental approval, and it galvanized evangelicals and conservative Catholics alike.
While Kerry ran on the mainstream American traditions of international cooperation and domestic investment, and transparency and rationality as essential to democratic government, Bush campaigned directly against these very ideas. At his rallies, Bush was introduced as standing for “the right God.” During the closing weeks of the campaign, Bush and Cheney ridiculed internationalism, falsifying Kerry’s statement about a “global test.” They disdained Kerry’s internationalism as effeminate, unpatriotic, a character flaw and elitist. “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig,” Vice President Cheney derided in every speech. They grafted imperial unilateralism onto provincial isolationism. Fear of the rest of the world was to be mastered with contempt for it.
These emotions were linked to what is euphemistically called “moral values,” which is actually social and sexual panic over the rights of women and gender roles — lipstick traces, indeed. Only imposing manly authority against “girlie men,” girls and lurking terrorists can save the nation. Bush’s TV ads featured digitally reproduced crowds of cheering soldiers, triumph of the leader through computer enhancement. Above all, the exit polls showed that “strong leader” was the primary reason Bush was supported.
Brought along with Bush is a gallery of grotesques in the Senate — more than one of the new senators advocating capital punishment for abortion, another urging that all gay teachers be fired, yet another revealed as suffering from obvious symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
The new majority is more theocratic than Republican, as Republican was previously understood; the defeat of the old moderate Republican Party is far more decisive than the loss by the Democrats. And there are no checks and balances. The terminal illness of Chief Justice William Rehnquist signals new appointments to the Supreme Court that will alter law for more than a generation. Conservative promises to dismantle constitutional law established since the New Deal will be acted upon. Roe vs. Wade will be overturned and abortion outlawed.
Now, without constraints, Bush can pursue the dreams he campaigned for — the use of U.S. military might to bring God’s gift of freedom to the world, with no more “global tests,” and at home the enactment of the imperatives of “the right God.” The international system of collective security forged in World War II and tempered in the Cold War is a thing of the past. The Democratic Party, despite its best efforts, has failed to rein in the radicalism sweeping the country. The world is in a state of emergency but also irrelevant. The New World, with all its power and might, stepping forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old? Goodbye to all that.
- And Rick Perlstein’s, too (who wrote this before Ohio was called)(thanks, J):
No matter what claims George Bush makes to another term now, we can’t know without seeing Ohio’s provisional ballots what voters here intended to say. By law, those ballots can’t be counted until 11 days after the election.
Already the pundits are calling for John Kerry to let it go, to pull back from seeking a full accounting. There’s a very good chance that even if the provisional ballots—perhaps 250,000 in all—are counted, Bush will still have won re-election by a very small margin. Two or three percentage points in that single state will probably have made all the difference. And if Bush manages to pull it out—maybe he won’t—in the next four years a thousand theories will bloom about what factors might have made those few points fall his way instead of Kerry’s.
Here is one that you probably won’t be hearing on CNN, rooted in my reporting of the last two years.
It begins with the figure of Minister James Dobson, the radio preacher and the mover and the shaker behind the outfit called “Focus on the Family.” Dobson has devoted his recent broadcasts to the proposition that a certain bill Senator Edward M. Kennedy wishes to pass, with the intention of providing federal penalties to thugs who beat up people for reasons of sexual orientation, is actually an opening wedge to anti-Christian pogroms. Dobson and his cohorts have been railing that is not just a step but a giant leap down the same slippery slope that found a Swedish minister named Ake Green sentenced to prison for preaching against homosexuality from his pulpit.
Here’s a version of that line, from the Maryland Family Values Alliance, which claims—and the claim is typical in evangelical circles—that passage of Senator Kennedy’s bill “would literally throw open the door to attacks against people of faith, who could be prosecuted with federal monies for expressing their views on homosexuality!”
Or Google a text entitled “The Freedoms Christians Might Lose in This Election,” by Dr. John Ankerberg. It is one of a nearly limitless train of sermons that tie a vote for John Kerry, the bill from Ted Kennedy, and the fate of Ake Green into a single, smoldering, horrifying knot.
Now go to senate.gov, type in S. 966 after clicking the tab reading “Legislation and Records,” and read Kennedy’s bill. Read it forward, backwards, sideways, inside out, and see for yourself that it says nothing of the kind.
Think about the fact that George Bush has relied on the diffusion of lies like this in order to win his majority tonight; that he couldn’t win without the widespread diffusion of such lies.
This is what I have learned these last two years. That the tragic thing about our public life is not that we are led by liars. It is that they have turned us into a nation of liars. For every time a leader whom ordinary, decent people want nothing more than to trust as a source of authority—a president, a minister, a leader of an outfit like the Maryland Family Values Alliance—says something untrue, it gets repeated by these decent people as truth. That feels like civic death to me.
How many points in the popular vote is a lie like this worth? If it’s more than two—I think it’s reasonable to surmise that it is—that means that without outright inventions like this, breathed life by “trustworthy” leaders and taken in like oxygen by God-fearing followers, George Bush would not be gliding toward his second term.
Tell me if that’s not enough to make you want to sleep for a very, very long time. I’m ready to head bedward to do so, thankful only for the fact that John Edwards has just appeared on my TV screen—2:30 a.m., an hour after I typed the first word of this essay—and promised that they will continue to fight. Then comes the news that Bush might stake a claim to victory, maybe before morning breaks. It’s more than I can stand.
Postscript: Just before 6. a.m. Eastern, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card announced that the Bush campaign was “convinced of its victory.” The president would be making his own statement later on Wednesday, Card said, but had “decided to give Senator Kerry the respect of more time to reflect on the results of this election.”
- And Jeff Sharlet:
The clearest evidence of homosexuality as an organizing principle in last night’s voting is the fact that all eleven of the state gay marriage bans proposed passed. The proposals may not have been so much populist as political from conception, designed by GOP strategists to drive otherwise lazy, Republican-leaning voters to the polls. Given the accounts of fraudulent phone calls “campaigning” for Kerry’s promise to legalize gay marriage (a promise he never made; like Bush, he’s for civil unions), that’s not a hard story to swallow.
But it doesn’t account for the marriage bans’ victories, nor for the many bishops and priests and ministers who called for electoral holy war by declaring the fight against homosexuality on par with that against abortion, and both more important than voters’ pocketbooks, public welfare, and international warfare.
And no get-out-the-vote strategy can ultimately explain the vote itself, nor the plurality of voters who told exit pollsters that “moral values” were their number one concern. Moral values — visible faith, anti-abortion, and, this time, anti-homosexuality — are a real and powerful force in the American public sphere.
In 2002 and 2003, my friend Peter Manseau and I spent about a year traveling the United States, reporting a book called Killing the Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible, a sort of spiritual geography of the nation. When we published the book earlier this year, interviewers asked us time and again: What’s the common denominator of American faith? What is it that most of us share?
We lied every time. We offered up sincere but misleading tributes to freedom of speech as the American devotion. We avoided the answer that had made itself as plain as the two-lane roads we drove on: The greatest common denominator of American belief is anti-homosexuality.
In Alan Wolfe’s sociological survey, One Nation, After All, he writes that he discovered that most middle-class Americans are free of overt bigotries — except homophobia. The exception to the rule of tolerance in American life, he argues, is the widespread belief that homosexuality is just not ok. Really not ok; whereas most Americans practice a nonjudgmental pragmatism with regard to others, homosexuality comes in for special condemnation.
Wolfe found this common thread through careful sociological analysis. My co-author and I tripped over it without even looking. In the strong majority of hundreds of interviews we conducted, believers of nearly every variety volunteered their opposition to homosexuality. I’m talking not only about Christian conservatives, although it’s worth remembering that that designation applies to the majority of Americans. We also heard about how wrong homosexuality is from Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, New Agers, Santeria practitioners, even Wiccans.
Most of these people are surprisingly abstract in their thinking. There may be a certain disingenuousness to the popular anti-homosexuality mantra, “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but nearly everyone we met really did distinguish their hatred of homosexuality from their dealings with homosexuals.
How do I know? Because many, if not most, thought that Peter and I were a gay couple, by virtue of the facts that we’re writers and had come from New York City. We’re neither a couple, nor gay, but there never seemed to be a polite way to say that, so we didn’t, and still some of the great homosexual-haters of America welcomed us into their homes and their churches and their temples.
If they could share their homes and their faith with men they assumed were gay, why can’t they share the state sanction of marriage?
I don’t know.
I’m familiar with all the arguments for and against gay marriage, and have heard variations played to the tune of a dozen different creeds and denominations. Examined in good faith, arguments against it do not hold water. Even if one concedes that homosexuality might be against God’s will, and that the state should help enforce God’s will, there’s the troubling question of priority. Depending on how you read — or don’t read– your scripture, there are a lot of things against God’s will, and in no faith that I know of is homosexuality chief among them.
- If those three columns don’t leave you aching to reclaim your progressive vision of Christianity, maybe this will inspire you. I’m sure I’ve posted Confessing Christ in a World of Violence before, but read it again as you recover and regroup. There is a deep and growing need for a strong progressive Christian movement; the Christian Right, contrary to everything Christ stands for, chose to align themselves with the wealthy and the powerful. We know where we’re needed.