Last Rites For The Right?
Steven C. Day has been writing an extended episodic post, using a Cheers-like cast of characters, to illustrate modern-day American politico-social thought as might be expressed by Middle Americans. He often has thoughtful and provocative comments, and his latest chapter, The Last Chance Democracy Cafť, Episode 33: High Noon for the Religious Right, is no exception. I'm going to allow his characters to present the case:
And then Horace said the damnedest thing. "Now, on a cheerier note," he began, "the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that weíve reached high noon for the Religious Right. Meaning that theyíve reached the high water mark for their power and influence. From now on, itís all down hill.
"I know this may sound nuts . . . given how powerful the Christian Right has become in this country. But Iíve been giving this a lot of thought lately, and I really do believe weíve reached the beginning of the end of social conservative dominance in American politics.
"The Schiavo case didnít go their way. Have you seen any evidence . . . any evidence at all that these folks have learned from that mistake?"
I'm not so sure that I agree with this evidence that the Radical Religious Republicans (The 'RRR'?) have stumbled and are about to fall, but it has gotten me to thinking. Certain signs are available that indicate something has certainly gone awry for the RRR. I agree that the Schiavo case was a debacle, but that ended several episodes of American Idol ago. Few people even remember what that was all about already. So there has to be something more. While I gather my thoughts, I'll let Mr. Day's characters present his premise (along with some links I've found to add weight to the argument):
* With each loss along the way, they just pushed back harder. * With each new poll showing how far out of step they were with the public, they became even shriller. * With each new proposal shot down as just too outlandish, they offered a new one that was far worse.
It's hard to argue against these points. Certainly, as I hope the links I've provided show, there is a preponderance of evidence to support them. It's just that after over five years of railing against RRR excesses (1.5 as a Left Coaster blogger), I've become less than hopeful that good news is really Good News.
Your recent column, however, reinforces my original suspicions that the future of this country is basically hopeless, and that there is no reason to stay and live in the mess that Bush and the Republicans are creating. You're correct when you forecast that the political wing of the Christian right will likely have a stranglehold on this country for decades to come. As you noted, it is extremely difficult to unseat a Congressional incumbent, and Democrats have proven that they don't have the slightest clue as to how to do it. So neither the House nor Senate is likely to return to Democratic control for many, many, many years -- if ever. (And if they eventually do, it will be too late; the damage being done today will have long since become irreversible.)
I frankly do not believe the White House will change back to Democratic hands, either. Combine the stupidity, hatred, intolerance, and general jingoistic, flag-waving nationalism of the majority of citizens in this country with the Democrats almost always running northeastern liberals (they have to appeal to the core base in the primaries to get the nomination, after all) who don't stand a chance of winning even one Southern state, and you have a recipe for a nightmare of conservative rule.
"... America is well on its way to being a one-party state."
I tend to agree with these points, as the preponderance of evidence has for years supported these contentions. But like I said above, something did shift this last week.
I mentioned on one of the recent comment threads that my good Orange County (CA) Republican coworkers were making lots of jokes concerning Owwer Leedur's hand-holding with Crown Prince Abdullah:
In addition, Mrs. Pessimist reports there is lots of discussion going on, among people who other wise aren't politically active, involving things like the Oil War and whether the US should withdraw from Iraq, and how bad King George's Social Security plan is.
Geov Parish, the author of the article to which the negative comments above were addressed, also sees hopeful signs:
There are a couple of things that give me hope, that keep me rooted to my home despite the complicity in a whole set of policies and worldviews I find repugnant. The first is that I, and we, are not alone.
There are good people saying "enough!," and doing good things, in every community, large and small, in this country. The tremendous outpouring that we've seen in just the past two or three years, the anti-war demonstrations, the popularity of explicitly liberal media, these are phenomena that haven't expressed themselves very clearly yet in the federal political arena. And yet John Kerry was able nearly to match George Bush's staggering fundraising prowess in the last election, and did so largely through grass roots groups like MoveOn.org and the Internet.
That movement may not be a majority of the country, but it is, at minimum, a powerful minority. And it is a majority in much of the country -- the blue states, the coasts, the urban areas and college towns where progressive values dominate the local political scene. In local politics -- especially in these areas -- there is still the potential to accomplish marvelous things. This gives me hope.
My only hesitiation to supporting these thoughts is that these are not normal times. When it became evident that the oily handholding:
wasn't working to get more oil and lower the gas prices, we had another bogus terror alert designed to push that bad news off the air and make the Sheeple scared and pliable again.
Scared and pliable - maybe off-balance is more appropriate. Keeping one's opponent off-balance, and thus in a weakened state, is a staple of The Art of War and martial arts. Fright is certainly one way to keep one's opponents off-balance, and fear of spending Eternity in the wrong place is one that can easily be exploited. That is what makes the RRR so effective in their message, because they attach it so firmly to 'unchallengeable' factoids as attributed to unimpeachable witnesses.
No typical religious person stops to ask the questions 'Why does God only talk to Pope Ratz / Jerry Falwell / Pat Robertson / Oral Roberts / ... and not directly to me?' and 'Why should I pray if my answers are going to be coming from men who hold power and control large sums of capital and whose political aims are contrary to my welfare?'
Substitute political subjects for the religious ones, and you have questions your typical Red State Republican voter should be asking: 'Why does God only talk to King George / Donald Rumsfeld / Condi Rice / Unca Dick / ... and not directly to me?' and 'Should I pray if my problems are coming from men who hold power and control large sums of capital and whose political aims are contrary to my welfare?'
If these questions were being asked, then maybe the power that Bu$hCo holds over the American populace would weaken, and the following scenario could become a reality:
I'll allow the habituees of the Last Chance Democracy Cafe to carry on from here:
Horace said, "I honestly believe that when the history of this era is written, 2004 will be remembered as the beginning of the end of the power of the Religious Right."
"The Schiavo affair happened this year . . . 2005, not in 2004." I was surprised Horace had made such an obvious mistake.
"I know," he replied, with a barely perceptible hint of annoyance. "Iím not talking about the Schiavo case . . . itís a symptom, not the cause.
Itís always been his theory -- one I generally agree with, by the way, that the Religious Right is most successful, at least in the majority of the country, when they work behind the scenes and out of the full glare of public scrutiny. "They grow like moss in the shadows, but flame like vampires in the full light of day," he always says.
The problem with being part of a fringe group that wins political power, of course, is you have to use that power cautiously. You have to keep reminding yourself that you didnít win because the public at large bought into your whole agenda; you won by working in the shadows. Because, if you allow your victory to go to your head, leading you to climb out of the shadows and show yourselves for who you really are, say by pursuing extreme elements of your agenda, you may be in for an unhappy surprise the next time you meet the voters.
Horace stroked his beer bottle with his forefinger, the way he sometimes does when heís considering his words carefully, and then said, "Itís just that itís all so much more in your face today than it used to be; so much more out in the open. God, how can I explain . . . I guess itís what I was saying before: The Religious Right is out of the shadows now and their demands just keep escalating. And theyíre in no mood to take no for an answer, or to compromise even a smidgen. They want it all. And most Republican office holders are so dependent on them that itís hard for them even to consider saying no . . ."
"So day by day, the Republicans push an agenda thatís further and further to the right of the vast majority of the American people. And day by day, as the leaders of the Religious Right fail to get everything they want, they become more strident. And I honestly believe, day by day, more Americans, if not fully coming to the realization of just how bad things have become, are at least starting to get the sense that right wing zealots have far too much power in our government."
"And I donít know if Iím as optimistic as Horace about all this," said Winston, "but thereís one thing I will tell you. The American electorate as a whole has very little use for zealots. They never have."
I am not so sure that I agree. Zealotry on both sides was a major factor in the eruption of the American Civil War. The American electorate on both sides were strongly in favor of militarily punishing the other side,
But it isn't necessary for the majority to be zealous, just that they be swayed by zealotry. And that is our current situation in America today.
Despite religious affiliations, most Americans are rote religious. By this, I mean that they have given little thought to their beliefs while practicing them anyway. they have been doing so sonce they were kids. We don't look at our religious beliefs and measure up the actions of our religious leaders, nor do we apply these standards to our political leaders - especially when they claim that "God chose me".
Henry David Thoreau's observation that "shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous . . . I perceive that we . . . live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that that is which appears to be" tends to apply to this lack of active examination of one's beliefs.
This 'rote-ness' applies in many other areas of American life, most especially the political. Imagine the results of the Vietnam years if the American public were as politically quiet as they now appear to be. Might we not still be cowering inside our bases at night, under attack by the very people we were attempting to 'befriend' by day?
Thus, it's easy to feel like hope is not an option. But maybe that isn't necessarily so. Back to the wise men of The Last Chance Democracy Cafe:
Horace patted Zach on the back. "I know itís hard now to even image how things can ever change. It almost feels like democracy is dead in America. Bush lies and lies and lies, and itís as though no one cares. Republican politicians push through one pay off to the wealthy after another, all the while screwing working Americans, and the public yawns. Itís an era where the idea of politics as an agent for the pursuit of the public good seems almost naÔve, where money is the only siren song heard, and yet, the public seems to just look the other way.
"But you know what it makes me think of? Itís a line at the very end of the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!, where Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is credited with saying of the attack on Pearl Harbor, ĎI fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.í [Evidence indicates Yamamoto never said this - ed]
"Zach, again Iíll admit that I may just be nuts, but I honestly do believe that the American electorate is a sleeping giant waiting to be awakened. And I think the harder the Religious Right pushes, the more the giant begins to stir."
Since we've touched on Admiral Yamamoto - a man who knew well what his country was facing when they planned war upon us ("In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.") - I wish that this observation could have worked in the favor of the American people when the Bu$hCo disasters are taken into account.
I wish that only six months would have passed before the American people rose up in disgust and outrage over the actions of Bu$hCo. I wish that even after six years such protest would rise up and squelch any further alterations to the Melting Pot.
People have to have hope, which is why religion exists at all. My hope is that the positive things being reported actually come to pass. I hope that people begin to ask the questions of whether or not their leaders and their actions are really religious or if their religious beliefs are being exploited to facilitate extremely non-religious pursuits.
Only time will tell now.
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