Implication for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

John Turner

Monday: There will now be a flurry of interest in David Kuo's book, Tempting Faith, and its revelation that the White House always viewed the so-called faith-based initiative as a political tool. Kuo and others who worked on the initiative for the Bush administration are disillusioned. I suppose I should feel sympathy for him, but I'm having a hard time summoning it.  Anyone who believed the teaching from the First Baptist Church of Alexandria that being a good Christian means being a conservative Republican, as Kuo says he once did, deserves any disillusionment that comes his way. That he has now waked up, at least a little, is a hopeful sign that no matter how much of a dupe a person has been, there is still the chance for redemption, a genuine Christian doctrine. The notion that the Republican Party is supportive of Christianity is so absurd it's disillusioning to consider that anyone ever believed it. One would be hard pressed to find two belief systems more in opposition than Republicanism and Christianity. A person can serve one, or the other. But, certainly, not both.

Tuesday: My first inclination this morning was to say we need lots of readers for Wells Tower's article in the November Harper's about the National Conservative Student Conference, which met in Washington this summer. But, then, as I reflect, I wonder. Maybe it's not good for many people to know about the kind of kids who attended. They're silly, yes. But the main thing about them is they're vicious.  You could say that, in a way, it's cute for eighteen and nineteen year olds to be caught up in zany right-wing schemes. But if you said so you would need to remember that in a decade or two these little twerps might be in charge of something significant. Having taught college students for longer than I like to remember, I'm not romantic about them.  They're people, and a sad truth about any group of people is that it contains some really nasty components. Of course, you might find consolation in recalling that the young people lured to the nation's capital this summer by the Young America's Foundation are probably just a fanatical fringe. Perhaps not a big percentage of our youth go out on rabbit hunting parties, not for the sake of rabbit stew, but to string rabbit heads on car and truck aerials to show their contempt for liberal softness. And, perhaps, not an overwhelming element of them regard the presidency of Ronald Reagan as a visitation of God to earth. Still, that there are enough to make a good-sized conference isn't a comforting thought. The people who organized the conference, and who work zealously to make the kids even more crazy than they are already, like Patrick X. Coyle and Roger Custer, are what used to be considered beneath contempt. But, it's a serious question whether they ought to be beneath notice. In any case, they're out in the political landscape, working frantically to make the United States an entity that would make Jefferson groan in his grave. The social conditions that allow them to escape being tagged as pure lunatics are subjects in need of more airing, that is, if we still have a public capable of recognizing lunacy for what it is.

Wednesday: The Way to Win, the new book by reporters Mark Halperin and John Harris, includes this extraordinary statement: "The only way news organizations can preserve the credibility to enforce accountability on politicians is to have reporters and editors who are divorced from cultural, partisan, or ideological sympathies." Is it possible for a person with a functioning brain to be divorced from all cultural sympathies? What would it mean to be in that condition? This is a widely expressed ideal without content which works to permit reporters to express their biases without ever having to confront or admit them. If a guy tells himself he has no cultural sympathies -- if, for example, he has no preference between fascism and democracy -- then he can bolster fascism simply on the basis of its efficiency, or shrewdness, or determination. The claim that one is reporting only on effectiveness may be the most cankerous bias there is because, obviously, systems that are prepared to crush and oppress people can proceed toward their goals more ruthlessly than ones which try to maintain levels of decency. To have no cultural sympathies is to make no choice between truth and falsehood, since some cultures are based on lies. People like Halperin and Harris, who claim this sort of "objectivity," doubtless don't grasp the implication of their own stance. But if their kind of rhetoric becomes a pervasive influence in journalism, then the function of a free press will have been destroyed.

Thursday: James Douglas, our governor here in Vermont, says he is disgusted by the behavior of the Republican leadership in Congress and by the White House. That's fine, I suppose, but it doesn't alter the fact that he is, himself, a Republican. He wants Vermont voters to send different kinds of Republicans to Washington and to reject the candidacy of the Democratic candidates because they are too much like the Republicans who are already in Congress. Perhaps there are some who can find sense in this argument, but, I confess, it escapes me. It wouldn't be of much import for the rest of the nation were it not that it seems to mimic the rhetoric of Republican candidates throughout the country. They don't want to be identified with President Bush or Dennis Hastert or Bill Frist. They want support because they are different from the Republican Party that has presented itself to us for the past five years. Has there ever been a more inane political message? When did these guys get so different? They have trotted along after Bush like obedient puppies for years while he pursued policies that were clearly disastrous. And now that the horror of them is becoming inescapable, they want to wail, "Not me." The Republican Party is the party of Bush, and Cheney, and DeLay, and Hastert, and Rumsfeld, and Frist. There is no other significant element of the Republican machine. If there are nominal Republicans who don't like that system, then maybe they had better consider finding a new political home. There's not going to be any adequate reform within the old organization.

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Harvard Square Commentary, October 23, 2006