In many ways, over this time period, the GOP more closely resembled a cult than a political party, and the cohesiveness of the cult was centered around Personality -- a glorification of, and blind reverence for, George W. Bush. But all of that is changing now
UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg has written a rather petulant and substance-free reply in National Review's Corner to the parts of this diary which discuss him, and since I could not publish a second diary here, I posted my response to him here.
In what is sure to be a potent bellwether of the imminent war over religious and political freedom in this country, George Will uses his column this week to expressly accuse the "social conservative" wing of the GOP of being decidedly un-conservative in its objectives and ideology, and all but warns that the GOP will be destroyed by the continued ascendancy of this sector of the Republican Party. Using the truly embarrassing (but quite illustrative) decision of a Kansas school board to literally re-define science in order to permit the teaching of warmed-over creationism in the public schools, Will warns:
"It does me no injury," said Thomas Jefferson, "for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." But it is injurious, and unneighborly, when zealots try to compel public education to infuse theism into scientific education.
The conservative coalition, which is coming unglued for many reasons, will rapidly disintegrate if limited-government conservatives become convinced that social conservatives are unwilling to concentrate their character-building and soul-saving energies on the private institutions that mediate between individuals and government, and instead try to conscript government into sectarian crusades.
There is not and has never been anything remotely conservative about these religious extremists. They do not favor limited government in any way. They believe so faithfully in the righteousness of their political agenda that they see any means to achieve their objectives as justifiable -- including exploiting and increasing the powers of all 3 branches of the federal government in order to achieve them.
But Will's dire warnings are too late. The GOP is already hopelessly dependent upon the enthusiastic support of this strident, power-hungry minority. And these social conservatives are tired of waiting. They believe that their time for true power has arrived and they are not going to modify their demands or be satisfied with token gestures. They believe that they twice delivered the Presidency to George Bush and that the GOP needs them if the party is to stay in power. These beliefs have made them drunk with power and they are insisting upon carte blanche to control the areas of federal policy they care about. And they have been given that control by a captive Administration which has no choice.
Almost nothing happens of any domestic significance without the prior consultation and approval of the James Dobson's of the world, and entire sectors of federal law are being shaped to comport with their highly intrusive vision. There is nothing conservative about it, but by operating in the bureaucratic crevices of Washington where little attention is paid, they are slowly but inexorably re-creating almost every sector of federal law and administrative agency regulations in their own image.
Mainstream conservatives were willing to tolerate these creeping theocratic intrusions because they, like almost everyone else, were cowed into submission by the Bush Administration's cynical post-9/11 exploitation of war and patriotism rhetoric, and because they thought they would get the things they cared about (reduced federal spending, enforcement of immigration laws, a reduction in the scope and reach of the federal government) in exchange for a few token, tolerable crumbs symbolically being thrown to the social conservative crowd in order to placate them.
But, as it turns out, the joke is on the mainstream conservatives. It is they who have been placated with token crumbs as they watch federal power and federal spending explode, often in order to promote the fundamentals of the social conservative agenda. With Bush now becoming weaker and weaker, they are magically re-discovering their beliefs and their courage and are beginning to crawl out of their cages and survey what is taking place. And they aren't happy about it.
Like Yugoslavia when it was ruled by Tito, these simmering conflicts among the GOP constituencies have been suppressed and prohibited by the unchallenged rule of George Bush, but the conflicts were never truly eliminated. They lurked under the homogenized surface. And as Bush's hegemonic rule over his party disintegrates, so, too, does his ability to suppress these disagreements. Without the unifying authority behind which they all obediently followed, these conflicts are bubbling to the surface again, ready to explode.
It is about time. The social conservatives have bought into their own PR, and have been aided by a dumb, uncritical media which, almost immediately after Bush's re-election, got collectively bullied into reading the 2004 election as some unmistakable sign that the true face of the American populace is James Dobson. That is not true and never was. Social conservatives are a loud and organized minority, but a minority to be sure. And their liberty-restricting, regressive agenda is plainly anathema to the majority of Americans, and even the majority of Republicans, who enjoy their individual liberties and freedoms as much as anyone else and do not want the Federal Government annexed by a crusading crowd which wants to use and radically expand Federal power in order to dictate how Americans live and die.
Will's column coincided with a similar -- and arguably more important -- attack on the Religious Right by Abraham Foxman, Director of the Anti-Defamation Legaue, which had previously been muted in its criticism of the Christian theocrats due to their religion-based support of Israel. Apparently concluding that this was a Deal with the Devil which he was no longer willing to maintain, Foxman gave a speech last week "directly attacking several prominent religious right groups and challenging their motives, which he said include nothing less than 'Christianizing America.'" He identified the odious Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council as two of the leading crusaders in this plainly theocratic movement.
The compelling urgency of this problem is self-evident, as the polling data cited by Foxman in his speech makes conclusively clear:
According to the survey, 70 percent of weekly churchgoers and 76 percent of self-described Evangelicals agreed that "Christianity is under attack" in this country -- a conclusion that is hard to square with their growing influence in Congress, the White House and the courts, he said.
Sixty-nine percent of Evangelicals and 60 percent of weekly churchgoers said there should be "organized" prayer in public schools, according to the survey, and 89 percent of Evangelicals agreed that religious symbols "like the Ten Commandments" should be displayed in public buildings. More ominously, only 26 percent of Evangelicals and 31 percent of weekly churchgoers agreed that "courts should protect church-state separation."
We are talking here about a group of religious fanatics which, despite its extremism, is gaining more and more power over America's domestic policies and is shaping federal law in almost every sector to comport with their religious dogma. The fact that only a small minority of this movement believes that the church-state separation should be preserved says all one needs to know about their ultimate goals -- goals which they are closer than ever to achieving, with 3 years still remaining in the Administration which is giving them a virtual free run at shaping domestic policy.
The explosiveness of this rift within the GOP is nicely illustrated by the reaction of National Review's Jonah Goldberg to the ADL's long overdue stance. Driven by the deep personal fear which characterizes virtually everything that he thinks and writes, Goldberg yesterday attacked the ADL for this speech, because Goldberg is petrified that the ADL, by criticizing this theocratic movement, will make them angry. He beings by melodramatically lamenting that the ADL "is making a horrible, horrible mistake," and then launches this telling, name-calling criticism of the ADL's stance:
Indeed, it strikes me as a form of cowardice to turn your energies against philo-Semtic (sic) Christian conservatives at a moment when real anti-Semitism is thriving in so many other quarters. Liberalism isn't Judaism and Judaism isn't liberalism. He'd be well advised to keep that in mind, for the sake of Jews and liberals alike.
Goldberg apparently thinks that, "for the sake of Jews," the ADL should avoid criticizing "Christian conservatives" because to do so is to associate itself with liberalism, which can only endanger Jews. He argues that the theocratic longings of Christian conservatism ought to be ignored by the ADL because the group's energies are better directed towards fighting what he calls "real anti-Semitism thriving in so many other quarters."
What powerful forces exhibiting "real anti-Semitism" does Goldberg think the ADL should be condemning instead of the church-state attacks being launched by the American Religious Right? Where are these threatening circles of "real anti-Semitism" which the ADL can do anything about? Goldberg doesn't say. Is it found among impotent, powerless Ward Churchill-type academicians? Among Muslim rioters in the French slums? Among clownish neo-Nazi groups with membership lists in the hundreds?
In case Goldberg hasn't noticed, Christian conservatives are the dominant political force in the United States. They control the White House, the Senate Leadership and the House. Virtually no domestic political decision of any significance is made without their prior approval.
The notion that it is cowardly to stand up to this powerful group, but would be somehow brave to castigate some fringe neo-Nazi group or International A.N.S.W.E.R. rally of 20 people, is exactly backwards. The ADL's decision to finally denounce this genuine, significant threat to religious and political freedom took courage precisely because doing so required Foxman to condemn the most powerful political group in the United States.
Indeed, the ADL's courage is starkly illustrated precisely by contrasting it with Goldberg's rather pathetic fears. It is the warrior Goldberg who, unsurprisingly, is the coward here. He is counseling that the Christian conservatives not be criticized because they will get angry and provoking that reaction should be avoided for "the sake of Jews." By admirable contrast, Foxman is alerting people to a threat posed by this group notwithstanding its power and undeterred by the prospect that they will not like him for it. "Cowardice" is what is driving Goldberg, not Foxman. And, as is so often the case, Goldberg knows that he is driven by fear, which is what causes him to label others as "cowards."
This war has been a long time coming and it is long past the time that it plays out. But better late than never.
The combination of Will's column and the ADL's condemnation of the Christian Right suggest that it is becoming increasingly clear that people are finally awakening to the severity of the threat posed by these thinly disguised theocrats. For the last 4 years, the same fear which is still causing Goldberg to wet himself has deterred all but a few from publicly warning of the agenda of this movement, but as Bush's popularity whittles away, so, too, is this fear. And finally, the true agenda -- and rapidly increasing power -- of these religious extremists is being recognized.
UPDATE: Looks like the much-heralded support of Jews by the Far Religious Right is conditioned upon the willingness of Jews to remain quiet and nod in agreement when theocrats issue their decrees -- just as Jonah Goldberg fearfully recommends they do. Listen to this thuggish and overtly threatening response to Foxman's concerns from Dobson's Focus on the Family:
Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family's vice president of government and public policy, called Foxman's speech "perplexing." Noting that the evangelical groups Foxman cited are staunch supporters of Israel, Minnery told the Forward, "If you keep bullying your friends, pretty soon you won't have any."How long can the GOP manage to keep these scotch-taped coalitions together? Not much longer -- at all -- from the looks of it.