The Republican clergy

By • on September 16, 2011 2:34 pm

I think Andrew Sullivan is right when he follows on Mike Lofgren’s widely read essay essay by again directly pegging modern Republicanism as a religious movement, and considers what that means:

…this political deadlock conceals a religious war at its heart. Why after all should one abandon or compromise sacred truths? And for those whose Christianity can only be sustained by denial of modern complexity, of scientific knowledge, and of what scholarly studies of the Bible’s origins have revealed, this fusion of political and spiritual lives into one seamless sensibility and culture, is irresistible.

…[The current GOP] can only think in doctrines, because the alternative is living in a complicated, global, modern world they both do not understand and also despise. Taxes are therefore always bad. Government is never good. Foreign enemies must be pre-emptively attacked. Islam is not a religion. Climate change is an elite conspiracy to impoverish America. Terror suspects are terrorists. When Americans torture, it is not torture. When Christians murder, they are not Christians. And if you change your mind on any of these issues, you are a liberal, an apostate, and will be attacked.

It’s one thing, of course, to describe the beast, and quite another to consider how one responds to it:

And the zealous never compromise. They don’t even listen.
Think of Michele Bachmann’s wide-eyed, Stepford stare as she waits for a questioner to finish before providing another pre-cooked doctrinal nugget. My fear… is that once one party becomes a church with unchangeable doctrines, and once it has supplanted respect for institutions and civility with the radical pursuit of timeless doctrines and hatred of governing institutions, then our democracy is in grave danger.

This is why I think Rick Perry has had the upper hand thus far in the Republican “debates,” because the entire Republican field has not been engaging in debates of issues in any secular sense. The debates have instead been proving grounds for demonstrating piety to a rigorously enforced doctrine with almost no grounding in the real world. Michele Bachmann is a true believer, but Perry is a preacher. Logic and facts need not apply.

Obama’s response thus far has been to offer compromises to a movement that does not compromise, and to argue facts with a movement that hates facts. Between now and November 2012, however, Obama’s audience isn’t that movement; it’s American voters. In a year when economic distress should doom his reelection chances, Obama’s best shot is to cast the election not as a choice between two competing visions of governance, but as a choice between democracy and theocracy. And a particularly nasty theocracy at that.

He won’t use that framing, of course. But Obama has given Republicans every opportunity to demonstrate that they cannot compromise, because no deviance from dogma is tolerable, and that they cannot even accept yes for an answer, because they don’t negotiate with antichrists.

While I am sympathetic to the critiques of Obama’s record that litter the progressive blogosphere, and I’m all for pressuring him to perform better in those areas where he can have an impact, that’s not really germane to what’s at stake in 2012. We’re not arguing better or worse policies here. We’re at war with a movement that wants to eradicate any of us who do not belong in their vision of a mythical, white, straight, individualist, evangelical Christian, never-was America.

Ironically, as Sullivan notes, Obama is the most visibly Christian president since Carter. But he is not the right type of Christian for what is in fact a very narrowly defined movement, one that excludes most Christians (Obama has no chance; it also excludes all blacks, all Democrats, all people with advanced degrees, and all people with funny names). If Republicans had regrouped in a more rational way after the disaster of the Dubya presidency, Obama would almost certainly be a one-term president just because of the economic damage he inherited. Instead, they started casting out apostates and doubling down whenever their factually challenged dogma was questioned.

The results were on painful display in Monday night’s Tea Party debate. Our task for the next year is to remind Americans at every turn that almost all of us are not pure enough to have any place in the theocratic vision of the United States on display there. The Republican nominee, whomever he or she is, will almost certain espouse such views for the next six or eights months in order to win the nomination. That’s plenty enough material for making the relentless case: A vote for Obama will be a vote against theocracy.

For the alternative, I’ll close with Sullivan again:

If they defeat [Obama], I fear we will no longer be participating in a civil conversation, however fraught, but in a civil war.

Comments

By Lansing Scott on September 19th, 2011 at 2:03 am

“Obama’s response thus far has been to offer compromises to a movement that does not compromise, and to argue facts with a movement that hates facts.” I think that statement bears repeating because it’s about as concise a critique of the Obama presidency as I’ve seen.

But I don’t agree that it’s all about theocracy. I think the theocrats & plutocrats are still (mostly) distinct camps — theocrats provide the numbers while plutocrats provide the funding — but they happily cohabitate in Republican fantasyland by virtue of a shared emphasis on doctrinal faith against all facts & reason. Theocrats espouse their faith in an invisible God-in-the-sky who hates gays, abortions, single mothers, etc., while plutocrats espouse faith in an Invisible Hand of the Market that magically transforms all self-interest into the Best of All Possible Worlds. Both camps hate facts, because those facts always seem to work against them, so they rely on professions of faith & whipping their followers into a frenzy.

I still believe the plutocrats ultimately have the upper hand, and pull most of the strings, but they are happy to conflate their interests with the theocrats at every opportunity. Texas has served as a case study for merging these interests, & has consequently produced GW Bush & now, Rick Perry.

By geov on September 23rd, 2011 at 8:56 pm

I agree that they’re distinct camps, but the plutocratic camp is numerically much, much smaller in the GOP base now, and we’re seeing the results in Congress – a significant part of the GOP House delegation, for example, refusing on principle to sign off on any debt ceiling deal, a position that horrified Wall Street.

And don’t confuse Perry with Bush. Dubya managed (for a while, through his first term) to bring the two camps together. But the Bushes, and the plutocrats in general, fear and despise Perry. He’s a hardscrabble son of the Texas prairie, and though he’s made himself some money while governor (funny how that works, huh?), he is of and represents the theocratic wing through and through.

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