Sunday, August 14, 2011

What Christianism Has Wrought

I couldn't have said it better than Andrew Sullivan.

It's all too true. I look at what the GOP has become, who its main frontrunner candidates are for the Presidency, and I remain simply baffled.

If anyone of a similar ideological rigidity and fundamentalist disposition on the left emerged as a frontrunner for the Presidency, I would be mortified. Conservatives like to complain about the groupthink of radical leftism, about its fundamental requirement of adherence to an unquestioned orthodoxy, about its zealotry to the cause of secular socialism; and yet that is exactly what I see as constituting the frontrunner candidates of the GOP, at least in terms of disposition if not in terms of exact content.

I just asked a conservative friend of mine, a good friend going all the way back to high school, and a person who is one of the smartest people I know, how he rationally defends these so-called "leaders" of the GOP, he can't do it. He simply cannot advance any reasonable defense of these individuals and the reckless behavior they promote.

I have a healthy respect for a conservatism I can find rational. I'm sorry, but I just don't see that conservatism on display among the current leadership of the GOP.


Eric said...

What Sullican sees as "a religious movement clothed in an anti-government radicalism" is actually two things that sometimes overlap: the strong Protestant culture that has always been part and parcel of the GOP and a recently strengthened libertarian element that has traditionally been on the fringe. The reason it looks different today is becasue the libertarian element (or a specific element of it) is ascendent, even within the Protestant GOP community.

When it comes to matters of faith, neither Bachman or Perry are very distinguishable from President Bush. Within the context of Republican Presidential candidates there is nothing original or revolutionary about their approach to government and faith. Anyone who thinks it is offensive or inappropriate for a politician to ask people to pray for rain (or to lead them in such a prayher) is probably never going to vote for a Republican anyway. Anyone who thinks such an act is extremely admirable is probably going to vote for whatever Republican is avaialble to vote for. The next election will be heavily influenced by voters who don't care one way or another about such things, because while they may think it is silly or non-helpful, they know plenty of good respectable people who routinely engage in such behavior (show me somebody in the middle part of the nation who hasn't been asked to pray for rain in the last two months, and I'll show you somebody who doesn't get out of the house much). These voters tune out the religious stuff, but they listen closely to the rest of it. And "the rest of it" is where the Republican mantra has experienced significant change the last few years.

What is different about the current crop of Republican front-runners is that, unlike Bush, there is no possible way for them to win the GOP primary unless they show a an extreme commitment to reducing not only spending, but the size and scope of the federal government.

So say what you will about the current crop of candidates, but if you want to have a serious conversation about them, you should get this part right: it is not their "Christianism" that makes them different from Republican of the past... it is their Ron Paul-ism.

Huck said...

Eric - I beg to differ. There is a radical difference between President Bush and the current crop of front runners. The difference is not that they profess Christian beliefs and prayer for rain; but it is the indistinguishable fusion between faith and policy, with faith dictating policy.

Your argument that libertarianism a la Ron Paul is ascendent doesn't hold water. First off, Ron Paul is simply not a credible GOP candidate. You can read any major right wing blog or any prominent right wing pundit to see how conservatives within the GOP react to the man. If it weren't the primacy of Christian evangelical fundamentalism marking the popularity of the crop of this electoral season's GOP's major frontrunner candidates, then Ron Paul would be considered a serious front-runner candidate. But the problem for Paul is that he doesn't demagogue fundamentalist Christianity in the service of politics, so he's relegated to the fringes.

When Tim Pawlenty, who not only espouses the "libertarian" credentials of conservatism, but actually has a fairly solid executive record of governing by them, but who doesn't pummel people with hyper-theocratic rhetoric and divinely-inspired policy positions, finishes in the distant netherlands to people whose records are arguably LESS small-government, libertarian conservative, but whose popularity derives from the red meat of Christianist purity and bombast, I'd say one can only conclude that it is not the actual "Ron Paulist" libertarian strain driving the wagon here.

That small-government, "live-and-let-live" libertarianism is NOT at work in the policy positions of any of the GOP's frontrunners. What sets them apart is their inclination to use government to impose a policy driven primarily by evangelical fundamentalist Christian precepts.

Eric said...

"...Ron Paul is simply not a credible GOP candidate."

I tend to agree (even if he is who I will most likely vote for in the primary now that T-Paw is out of the running), but I was talking about his ideological influence on the party, not his electability. Ron Paul is to the modern conservative moevement as Goldwater was to Reagan. All those same pundits who decry Ron Paul's fans and his foreign policy positions always take great care to say, "but he's right on spending". And he's been right about it for decades. The reason Ron Paul isn't a front-runner is two-fold, and neither has anything to do Christianity: 1) a sizeable number of conservatives can't stomach his extremely non-interventionist foreign policy (he says we shoud let Iran have nukes, period) and 2) He's a poor public speaker, awkward looking, often rambling, subject to crazy drunk uncle rants. If Rand Paul (who shares his father's 'strengths' but not most of his weaknesses) were running, he'd be a front runner.

I liked Pawlenty a lot, but the fact is he just looked and sounded horrible every time he stood up on stage with a group of conservatives. He had a strong record in Minnesota, but he did a poor job promoting it, and in spite of his record he had some past policy positions that called his ideological credentials into question with many conservatives. Having lent past vocal suport for 'cap and trade' and a health care mandate was infinitely more damaging to his candidacy than a general lack of Bible thumping (and it should be mentioned that I've never seen Pawlenty give a speech where he didn't talk about his faith).

And while I agree with you that small government libertarianism isn't at work in any policy proposals of the frontrunners, that's because none of the fruntrunners have issued any formal policy proposals (which is my single biggest complaint... my support for T-Paw was based almost exclusively on the fact that he was the only candidate with a well defined policy agenda). But policy proposals will eventually come out, and when they do, you can bet they'll be competing to out-do eachother when it comes to cutting government spending and size, and the results of that competition will have a huge impact on who wins the primary.

If policy driven by hardcore, top-down, federally imposed Protestant social conservatism were really the key issue for conservatives, then Rick Santorum would be the undisputed front runner. He's more hardcore than anyone else in the field. And about as popular as Pawlenty.