There was a moment in tonight's YouTube Republican debate that terrified me.
No, it wasn't Romney's chilling equivocation on waterboarding: that was expected, and at least for this electoral cycle, thank God, the party still has John McCain's awesome moral clarity on that issue. Nor was it Tom Tancredo's conflation of the U.S. armed forces with medieval Christian crusaders; after all, the guy doesn't have a chance, any more than does Ron Paul, whose views on the Trilateral Commission reveal him to be only one missed day of meds shy of the reeking lunatics with hand-lettered signs who prowl Lafayette Square.
No, what had me shaking with anger and fear tonight was the moment when the Constitution slipped into the abyss for good, and nobody--but nobody--in that auditorium appeared to notice that it has. Did you?
I'm talking about the moment when an ordinary American--an all too typical American--
--held up a Bible and said (I write from memory, but this was his meaning): "I'm going to ask you a question whose answer will tell us all we need to know about every one of you: do you believe that every single word of this book is true?"
And Giuliani answered like a sensible Catholic. And Romney answered like a Mormon scared to admit to the Book of Mormon. And Huckabee answered like a good Baptist minister, a good pastoral answer balancing faith and reasoned understanding. . . .
And I looked up and realized that the Constitution had vanished. Because no one--not one candidate, not Anderson Cooper the moderator, not a single person in that packed and often raucous audience--spoke the only possible Constitutionally permissible answer:
Article.VI. . . . no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
No religious test. None. Yet what we saw tonight was a religious test. A crystal-clear, absolutely open and direct violation of Article VI of the Constitution.
And no one in that roomful of politicians and political experts and politically committed Americans had the courage to say so, or perhaps even the knowledge to recognize it for what it was.
In that silence, we had to know: the Constitution has died, and we are so ensorcelled by those who killed it that we cannot even see that it is gone.
UPDATE: In fairness, I should clarify that what shocked me was not that the question was asked (which was itself an exercise of individual right)--it was how it was (not) answered. A citizen said: your religious opinion tells us all we need to know to decide whether you should be president. And no one onstage or off objected to that at all.