Monday, November 21, 2011

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

During the 2008 campaign for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama was caught on tape remarking that during tough economic times, working class Americans cling to “guns and religion” as an outward manifestation of their bitterness and frustrations.  This quote was used (mostly by Hillary, but Republicans thereafter) to highlight what they perceived as Obama’s condescending personality and his aloof nature with “the folks”.  Recent events, however, have made me rethink whether or not Obama was overreaching about Americans when he made this statement, or merely hitting the nail on the head.

Guns and religion, and not jobs, are apparently the most pressing issues on the minds of GOP politicians.  During last week’s Thanksgiving Family Forum in Iowa, Flavor of the Month candidate, Newt Gingrich, made what I consider to be a remarkable statement about the nature of faith and government in this country:

“Because we’ve in fact attempted to create a secular country, which I think is frankly a nightmare.”

It is Gingrich’s belief that we have been systematically “driving God out of public life”, and that the creation of a secular society is the harmful result.  As a self-described non-lobbying ‘historian’, Newt shouldn’t need to be reminded that the U.S. has been a secular nation since inception, but during pander season, that may be too much to ask. 
With his commentary, Gingrich may have been thinking about the Supreme Court decision in Abington Sch. Dist. v. Schempp, when, in an 8-1 decision, the justices ruled that public officials could not promote Bible passages and the Lord’s Prayer over public school intercoms.  What Gingrich sees in this decision in the government’s attempt to rid God from the public square.  What reasonable people could see is the Court preferring that religious instruction be handled in the home, by the family, and not by the local school board.  I have to be honest – that sounds like a conservative position to me, but riling up the base with fantasies of the current culture being anti-God is more incendiary and therefore better for the business of firebrand politics.

The alternative to a secular society, of course, would be remaking the United States as a theocracy, in which it would then have more in common with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan under Taliban rule, than with Europe, and North and South America.  It would seem as if Gingrich is in favor of theocratic rules and doctrines for us.  After all, Newt knows best.  If he thinks that a secular society is “a nightmare”, then it would reason that he believes a theocracy in America would be a dream come true.  He might want to be careful here.  A theocratic government might not look kindly on a twice divorced, admitted adulterer with a predilection for stretching the truth.  Justice in those faith based countries is harsh and swift, and usually involves the forcible removal of valuable body parts.

At that same forum, five other non-Mormon candidates were in attendance, taking turns showing spiritual emotion (yes, there were a few candidate tears), beating their breasts and speaking in tongues.  
  • Pro-life Perry supported a law banning adoption by same sex parents, preferring a market-based foster child program solution no doubt.  Kim Kardashian would retain her rights to parent in Perryland.   
  • Herman Cain (no relation to Abel, in any sense of the word) supported a restructure of the tax code so churches could preach the commandments of political policy while still maintaining tax-advantaged status.  If that isn’t state endorsed religion, I am not sure what is.   
  • Gingrich had to be bolder to match his latest incarnation, so he proposed a federal law defining “personhood” as beginning at conception, the same law that fell to an overwhelming defeat in the heart of Red State country, Mississippi.  In this scenario, contraception would become a preemptive abortion, punishable by law.  If the “personhood” amendment can’t sway voters in Mississippi, I fail to see how that position will play in New York.
For a group so committed to the sovereignty of the states, this crowd (except Ron Paul) sure loves federal solutions to culture war problems.

 On the gun front, the GOP is pushing hard for the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act.  The Act would require that states with tight concealed weapon restrictions allow people with permits from states with lax laws to carry concealed and loaded guns in their jurisdiction.  Apparently, when it comes to guns, states’ rights are an inconvenient truth.  States have the right to have their own laws without federal interference, if the issue is health care for the disadvantaged or education for the poor.  States forfeit that right if Rick Perry wants to shoot a coyote while jogging within the borders.
Thirty-eight states prohibit people convicted of certain violent crimes like misdemeanor assault or sex crimes from carrying concealed weapons.  Under this proposed Reciprocity law, co-sponsored by over 200 Republicans, those states would have to respect the concealed carry rights of those from others states.  A majority of states require some gun training before the issue of concealed weapon permits.  Under this law, untrained gun owners would be welcomed with open arms (no pun intended).  The hypocrisy of this position is so transparent as to be funny.  But it is not a joke, and no one should be laughing.  What happened to “enforce the laws on the books”?  You’ll have to pry gun issue pandering from the GOP’s cold, dead hand. 
Don’t look now, but in the run up to the 2012 elections, it seems as if it is the Republican political class that is clinging to guns and religion as a vehicle to power.  In fact, the only group more committed to both religion and guns in their rhetoric might be the Taliban.  Not sure that’s the model they should be following for inspiration.

“When you’ve got them by the guns and the religion, their hearts and minds will follow.” – Anon (or maybe Karl Rove)

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