As the 2004 election draws nearer and George W. Bush’s poll numbers grow shakier, White House operatives are devoting themselves to coddling the religious right. Given that 40 percent of Bush’s 2000 vote came from white evangelicals, if you add Orthodox Jews and conservative Catholics you’ve got a formidable religious bloc. These people demand legislative action, e.g., bans on late-term abortion and gay marriage. With the White House strongly behind their agenda and legislators fearful of retaliation if they don’t climb aboard, the wall between church and state is taking a beating.
That is not exactly news, but it explains recent seemingly disparate events. Take the Boykin affair. When Lieut. Gen. William Boykin, deputy under secretary of defense for intelligence, referred to the United States as a “Christian nation” engaged in a “spiritual battle” with Satan and preached that the Christian god was “bigger than” the Muslim god, which is “an idol,” it would appear his remarks clashed with Administration policy, as expressed in Bush’s statements that America’s war on terror “is not a war on Islam” or “a clash of civilizations.” Accordingly, the general should have been fired forthwith. Instead the President said merely, “He doesn’t reflect my point of view,” and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld sidestepped, praising his “outstanding record.”
The Christian Coalition blasted the “liberal mob” attacking an “American hero.” Moral: Firing Boykin would make him a Christian martyr. And in your heart you can’t be too anti-Islam.
Meanwhile, moderate Muslims, once sympathetic to the US war on terror, accuse Bush of a pro-Christian, pro-Israel bias. The White House Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy, in a study of the Middle East, reports, “Arabs and Muslims respond in anger to what they perceive as U.S. denigration of their societies and cultures.” The double standard applied to Boykin and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, publicly condemned by Bush for his anti-Semitic speech, fanned the flames.
Back in the USA, Christian fundamentalists claimed a great victory with the Senate’s passage of the so-called partial-birth abortion bill, which the President is set to sign. No matter that the courts are likely to overturn it for vagueness and failure to permit an exception when the health of the woman is in danger, the issue energizes the faithful. Apparently, the “pro-life” agenda is intended to cover Americans from womb to tomb. Witness the all-out drive in Florida to pass a law overriding court decisions and the findings of neurologists and authorizing Governor Jeb Bush to order a brain-damaged woman back on life support. A PR blitz engineered by resurrected antiabortion fanatic Randall Terry put the heat on state legislators. Leading the charge was the Florida Speaker of the House, who just happens to be running for a US Senate seat and needs the evangelicals. Jeb Bush, of course, is eager to lock in these folks for W’s 2004 election bid.
The hypocrisy of religious-right politicians is boundless. But whether they are sincere or cynical is immaterial. It is the baneful consequences of their acts and policies that concern us: fomenting anti-Americanism, encouraging antiscience know-nothingism, intruding government into doctor-patient relationships and intimate family decisions on life and death, and substituting dogma for democratic debate. God save us from the true believers!