Addicted to Resentment

It was too good to be true. A few weeks ago it seemed the Republicans were going to get their act together and we’d once again have two functioning political parties, each presenting policy suggestions based on clear principles, not one party floating a few ideas and the other party saying no to everything and saying nothing more at all. Jeb Bush warned them about that clearly enough. Being anti-everything might feel good – you get to feel righteous and all that – but pretty soon people will begin to ask you what you’re actually for. You’d better have some answers, and “not that” isn’t an answer. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was on the same page when he offered his super-special blueprint for rebuilding the party – as something had to be done. They do have problems appealing to women and minorities. They do keep losing elections.

His idea is that the party needs to find a way to explain its principles better. That will make those who previously thought that they were jerks agree with their policies, which flow from those principles. He plans to spend ten million dollars of the party’s money to send what could be called party ambassadors into minority and gay communities, and to women’s groups, to listen to their concerns and tell them they need not worry at all – Republicans are fine people who are on their side. Those policies that they think will hurt them – doing nothing about gun control or immigration reform, and repealing Obamacare and making abortion and even contraception totally illegal once again, and giving even more and even bigger tax breaks to the rich at the expense of everything else, and deregulating anything that has to do with finance and the environment and food safety – are really good for them, in the long run. Overall he argued that it was probably not wise at all to insult those who they want to vote for them, so there will be no more sneering at minorities or women or gays. Show those folks that you’re tolerant and understanding. Explain to them that they’re fools and moochers and perverts and murderers in a nice way. They’ll come around.

It was a plan. It was also doomed to failure. As the last election showed, far too many people reasoned out that those policies were just plain dumb, or sensed that viscerally. As for the principles that inform those policies – government should do as little as possible as private enterprise always does things better, because private enterprise wants to make a profit after all, and secular social policy should be based on what a muscular and defiant and angry Jesus would do – well, they weren’t buying that either. Private enterprise, loosed to do its thing, had broken the economy – the worst disaster since the Great Depression – and when your healthcare policy is rescinded because you got sick in too expensive a way, it was hard to buy what the Republicans were selling. That whole Muscular Jesus thing seemed a stretch too. There were two centuries of Christian tradition to consider. Jesus was never Rambo before these folks came along. Something was wrong here, and of course there’s no nice way to explain the people that they’re fools and moochers and perverts and murderers. They do tend to resent that.

That was only part of the problem. The other part of the problem was the muscular and defiant and angry Christian Right – those marinating in their own righteousness and one of the three legs of the Republican Party. The party needs them, and the unfettered-big-business bloc and the war-everywhere-solves-everything bloc, to amass a majority in national elections. Reince Priebus didn’t account for their disgust with his notion of even listening to sinners and evil-doers. Lose the Christian Right and the party becomes a permanent minority party, so it was time to do some damage-control. It was time to call Obama and the Democrats murderers:

In an article published Wednesday on the conservative website RedState, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus blasted Democrats for supporting Planned Parenthood, while floating the damning suggestion that the likes of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) support infanticide.

“The President, the Senate Majority Leader, the House Democratic Leader, and the Chair of the Democratic National Committee (in whose home state this hearing occurred) made funding Planned Parenthood an issue in the 2012 campaign,” Priebus wrote. “They should now all be held to account for that outspoken support. If the media won’t, then voters must ask the pressing questions: Do these Democrats also believe a newborn has no rights? Do they also endorse infanticide?”

The hearing in question was interesting:

[Last week] in Florida, lawmakers held a hearing about a bill to protect the lives of babies born during an attempted abortion procedure. The bill requires the abortionist to provide medical care to the newborn. It might seem obvious that a newborn should be cared for – but not to Planned Parenthood.

They sent a lobbyist to the Florida legislature to testify in opposition to the bill.

Priebus was upset at the testimony of a Planned Parenthood lobbyist who, not being a doctor, couldn’t answer questions about specific medical procedures, but explained that her organization believes medical decisions “should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician.” Priebus said that was no more than support for infanticide, and that meant there was a scandal. Do they endorse infanticide?

He’s just asking. He hopes this is a gotcha moment, or he hopes the Christian Right will see it as one and get off his back. It’s unlikely that the media will cover this story of a Planned Parenthood lobbyist, who couldn’t answer specific questions about specific medical procedures in hypothetical treatment scenarios, as evidence of a cover-up where Obama and all Democrats secretly love killing newborn babies – but it was worth a shot.

Heather Parton just sighs:

Yep. We’re back to the infanticide propaganda, their go-to horror story to make people reflexively connect zygotes with the Gerber Baby and condemn Planned Parenthood as an institution of mass murder.

Anyway, I think we can all feel fairly confident that the War on Women has not been abandoned. They’re just regrouping. There is a very large faction of GOP voters for whom these culture war issues are the only issue. They aren’t strategists and savvy pragmatists. They are true believers whose only interest in politics stems from their deeply held belief that they must save the country from perdition. Maybe Democrats just think they’ll behave like other voters and come to some practical understanding that they can only expect half a loaf, but the Republicans know that’s not going to happen. These people’s politics are about life everlasting and the promise of Armageddon. They aren’t into compromise.

The Party, on the other hand, is nothing if not pragmatic. They know they need to keep these people under the tent.

This is writing off much of the women’s vote, and a good deal of the minority vote as Planned Parenthood is the only provider of medical care for women in many of their communities, in order to keep one third of the Republican Party from bolting. Reince Priebus’ job isn’t easy, but one wonders who else he needs to please. The folks at Public Policy Polling just gave us a read on the odd things that registered voters believe and Joshua Keating sums up the oddest results:

Among the survey’s big findings are that 51 percent of Americans believe JFK was killed by a conspiracy, 21 percent believe a UFO crashed at Roswell, 13 percent believe Barack Obama is the antichrist, 7 percent believe the moon landing was faked, and 4 percent believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power.

Everything is a conspiracy, so of course Obama fully supports infanticide. Of those who believe any of the odd things in this recent poll, Republicans generally outnumber Democrats two to one, and for those who believe all that climate change stuff is a hoax and conspiracy of evil scientists out to ruin America, it’s three or four to one. Reince Priebus must understand that floating one more conspiracy theory is safe enough. The predisposition is there.

What he didn’t account for is this getting out of hand. The Lizard People are a minor matter. He also has to deal with the odd notion that Christianity is under attack in this country, that Christians are an oppressed and beleaguered minority. It’s more than Bill O’Reilly reporting on the nefarious War on Christmas each year, and this year he’s telling us of the War on the Easter Bunny:

So, if the far left can marginalize Santa and the Easter Bunny, if they can tell the children “those symbols are obsolete and unnecessary,” they then set the stage for a totally secular society in the future. That’s what you have in Scandinavia, and that’s why the Easter Bunny is on the run here in America.

What? His theology is questionable:

According to the University of Florida’s Center for Children’s Literature and Culture, the origin of the celebration – and the origin of the Easter Bunny – can be traced back to 13th-century, pre-Christian Germany, when people worshiped several gods and goddesses. The Teutonic deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate.

The Easter Bunny does not have Judeo-Christian origins. The Easter Bunny is not Jesus, who, by the way, is not Rambo. But Christianity is under attack. It always is and now one state is doing something about it:

A bill filed by Republican lawmakers would allow North Carolina to declare an official religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and seeks to nullify any federal ruling against Christian prayer by public bodies statewide.

The legislation grew out of a dispute between the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. In a federal lawsuit filed last month, the ACLU says the board has opened 97 percent of its meetings since 2007 with explicitly Christian prayers.

There is that pesky Establishment Clause in the Constitution, but it seems, according to the new bill, everyone misunderstands it:

“The Constitution of the United States does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional; therefore, by virtue of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the power to determine constitutionality and the proper interpretation and proper application of the Constitution is reserved to the states and to the people,” the bill states.

“Each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion,” it states.

Phillip Bump at The Atlantic Wire carefully explains the odd circular logic of this – yes, Marbury v. Madison established federal judicial review – the Supreme Court decides what’s constitutional – but anything it decides is a federal decision so it’s not binding on states. For example, Justice Hugo Black, writing here for the Supreme Court majority in Everson v. Board of Education (1947), offers this:

The “embellishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and State.”

That’s fine for the feds, but the states can do what they damned well please, and North Carolina can declare an official religion – Christian, or maybe Baptist, or maybe Southern Baptist, and maybe Missouri Synod only. It’s their business, or so say the folks at the Tenth Amendment Center:

The purpose of the “Establishment Clause” was two-fold: (1) to prohibit Congress from imposing a national religion upon the people; and (2) to prohibit Congress (and the Federal government generally) from interfering with existing church-state relations in the several States…. It was designed to promote religious freedom by forbidding Congress to prefer one religious sect over other religious sects. It was also intended, however, to assure each State that its reserved powers included the power to decide for itself, under its own constitution or bill of rights, what kind of relationship it wanted with religious denominations in the State.

They made that up, but Christianity is under attack, because there are so few Christians these days, and everyone is always picking on them, but David Graham provides historical context:

What makes this case in particular interesting is that despite the natural incredulous reaction this ploy may incite, it’s not as unprecedented as it seems. Prior to independence, the Church of England was the established church in the colonies. After the Revolutionary War and prior to the writing and ratification of the Constitution, states were suddenly left to their own devices, and many responded by considering the establishment of official churches. One of Thomas Jefferson’s proudest achievements (one of three he included in his epitaph; his presidency wasn’t one) was writing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The statute represented his victory in a battle with Patrick Henry over establishing a state church. Henry, while advocating tolerance, also wanted Richmond to collect taxes that would subsidize several Protestant denominations.

But not every state had a Jefferson. South Carolina went the Henry route, giving state funding to multiple denominations for a time. North Carolina disestablished the Anglican Church in 1776, although the state constitution still contains a now-unenforceable prohibition on non-believers holding office.

It never ends, and Graham adds this about these old disputes:

Churches were established and then disestablished in the context of a homogeneous society in which Protestant Christians were completely dominant. So let’s keep two things in mind when we look at a bill like North Carolina’s: First, the Founders, despite being overwhelmingly Protestant men in an era kind to them, intentionally avoided state religion in most cases, and wrote protections against it. And second, even in that homogeneous society, American churches proved too fractious to justify even broadly distributed state support. Now, imagine the difficulties that might erupt in an era when evangelical Christians, mainline Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, secular humanists, and atheists all share the culture.

They do? Yes, they do, and Reince Priebus will have to deal with the new eruption of anger and resentment, as silly as it is. He’ll have to say something. He’ll have to decide between the resentment of these folks in North Carolina and the potential resentment of other mainline Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, secular humanists and atheists. He’ll have to decide where the votes are. He doesn’t have an easy job.

Bill O’Reilly found that out when he made the mistake of saying this:

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly on Tuesday said those in favor of equal rights on the issue have a “compelling argument” against religious conservatives.

“The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals,” O’Reilly said during a segment with Fox colleague Megyn Kelly on the Supreme Court hearings. “That’s where the compelling argument is. We’re Americans. We just want to be treated like everyone else. That’s a compelling argument – and to deny that, you’ve got to have a compelling argument on the other side. And the other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible.”

Slate’s William Saletan covers the fallout:

The next day, Rush Limbaugh pounced on O’Reilly. “How many of you who watch Fox are Bible thumpers?” Limbaugh asked his listeners. “Last night you were sort of marginalized on The Factor as not having a compelling argument and just being a bunch of Bible thumpers.” In a follow-up hit, Limbaugh repeated that O’Reilly “said the people that oppose [gay marriage] are just a bunch of Bible thumpers.”

Saletan says that’s unfair:

Limbaugh distorted O’Reilly’s words in two ways. First, O’Reilly didn’t use the phrase “Bible thumpers.” He didn’t target a person. He targeted a practice: thumping the Bible. The difference is more than semantic. Thumping the Bible can be understood as a tactic separate from one’s religious beliefs. It’s analogous to saying that people shouldn’t immigrate illegally, rather than calling someone an “illegal immigrant.” Second, O’Reilly never said opponents of gay marriage didn’t have a compelling argument. He said they hadn’t made a compelling argument. His criticism could be taken as a challenge, not a verdict.

It didn’t matter:

Another radio barker, Mark Levin, soon joined the fray. He played a clip of Kelly asking her question: “How does it hurt a traditional or a heterosexual marriage?” At this, Levin erupted. “Every major religion on the face of the Earth … they all reject same-sex marriage,” he asserted. “What do you mean, ‘What tradition does it hurt?'” Levin went on: “In an hour and a half today, have I thumped the Bible once?” He chided O’Reilly: “You’re a practicing Catholic! Have you heard what your priests have had to say, and all the way up to the pope?” Levin accused O’Reilly of “trashing” and “mischaracterizing” opponents of gay marriage.

This too was nonsense:

Kelly never said gay marriage didn’t defy anyone’s religion. She said it didn’t hurt anyone’s marriage. And Levin missed O’Reilly’s point: Invoking the bottom-line positions of world religions – especially when you get them wrong, as Levin did (Buddhism? Really?) – doesn’t cut it as a persuasive argument in a pluralistic society. Demanding that O’Reilly obey the pope is no better than thumping the Bible. It’s an appeal to authority, not to reason.

But it didn’t stop:

Steve Deace, another ideologue with a microphone, piled on as well. First he misrepresented Kelly: “Megyn Kelly says, ‘If you take out the Bible, you don’t have a good argument.'” Then he misrepresented O’Reilly: “Word of God? We shouldn’t consult that in anything we do, says Bill O’Reilly.” Deace, like Levin, couldn’t see the distinction between consulting Scripture and treating its text as inerrant authority. He couldn’t even imagine a rational argument outside the text. “If you take out the word of God,” he asked, “what do you have left?”

The next night O’Reilly got in a shouting match with Laura Ingraham over that very thing, with O’Reilly screaming that you just can’t cite Scripture to settle policy disputes, and Ingraham screaming back that he should have never used that word “thump” – and his saying that he classifies people as Bible thumpers when “all they do is say, ‘I object to gay marriage because God objects to it.'”

It was amusing, or appalling, or something, but Saletan sees it this way:

In his clumsy way, he has exposed a serious weakness on the right: too much reliance on authority and too little effort to reason or connect with people. That weakness is crippling the ability of conservatives not just to persuade, but to learn.

Someone tell Reince Priebus:

Reliance on sheer textual authority – not just the Bible, but the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence – is a common problem on the right. The moral power of the Bible, the Constitution, and the Declaration arises not from their proclaimed divinity but from the cogency, integrity, and resonance of their principles. When parts of the text can’t be squared with those principles – the three-fifths clause, for instance, or the instruction to kill gay men – sensible people, including believers and constitutionalists, choose the principle over the text.

What conservatism needs today is less fundamentalism about guns, drones, taxes, and gay marriage and more emphasis on the underlying objectives: freedom, order, security, family formation, fiscal responsibility, and growth. It needs to stop whining about marginalization and start reclaiming the mainstream.

Good luck with that. People do love their resentments. Sometimes it’s all they have. A few weeks ago it seemed the Republicans were going to get their act together, but that really was too good to be true. Resentment is addictive, like a drug that will eventually destroy you. That’s happening here.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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