Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Playing the God Card

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Behold the great Dr. Bill Frist, miracle-worker! Watch as he miraculously diagnoses a chronically brain-damaged patient--simply by watching about 45 minutes of edited videotape footage provided by her parents. More miraculous still, according to his own website, his specialties are the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, not the brain! Watch as he confounds the experts who have actually examined the patient in question by proclaiming that she is not brain-dead and indeed is capable of recovery! Be further amazed as he proclaims that it is possible to get HIV and AIDS from the tears or sweat of an infected person, contridicting more than 20 years of so-called "established science." Now, come to Jesus and fight the ungodly filibuster at the same time as the Good Doctor exhorts his followers to wage a holy war against the heathen asses who dare to oppose "people of faith" imposing their faith willy-nilly on society at large, the Constitution be damned! I ask you: is there nothing this miracle-worker cannot do?

Oh, but this only scratches the surface of the many accomplishements of Bill Frist, M.D. According to Wikipedia, that fount of all knowledge, "While in medical school, Frist adopted cats from Boston animal shelters, telling shelter staff he intended to keep them as pets. He would then experiment on and kill the animals as part of his medical studies. Later, in his 1989 book 'Transplant,' he commented: 'It was a heinous and dishonest thing to do. I was going a little crazy.' PETA later called on him to apologize... As part of Frist's preparations for political office, in December 1993 he ended his membership in Nashville's all-white Belle Meade Country Club, which he had joined in the 1980s following family tradition.... During that campaign, he also attacked [incumbent Democratic Senator Jim] Sasser for his attempt to become Senate Majority Leader, claiming that his opponent would be spending more time taking care of Senate business than Tennessee business. Frist won the election by 13 points, becoming the first physician in the Senate since 1928. Frist himself is now Senate Majority Leader."

Just thought a little background might be helpful in understanding Frist's Sunday appearance via videotape at the "Justice Sunday: Stopping the Filibuster Against People of Faith" prayer service at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. For those who don't know, this "Justice Sunday" event was a rally against the Democrats' use of the filibuster to block a few of Bush's judicial appointees. The claim being brought out is that the Dems are not just filibustering ideological extremists, but "people of faith" for the sole reason that they are "people of faith."

Kinda reminds me of the times Republicans claimed the Democratic party was "anti-women" because it opposed several female Bush nominees. Or the time the Republicans claimed the Dems were "anti-Catholic" because they opposed a Catholic Bush nominee. Or the times they claimed that the Dems were "anti-black" for opposing a black nominee or "anti-Hispanic" for opposing a highly unqualified partisan hack of a nominee who just so happened to be Hispanic...

The Republicans have stumbled onto a great truth we Democrats have expended a great deal of energy trying to keep quiet: We do hate women. That's why we made Nancy Pelosi our leader in the House. That's why out of the 68 women in the House of Representatives, 45 are Democrats. That's why out of the 14 female members of the Senate, 9 are Democrats. That's why out of the 8 currently serving female governors, 6 are Dems. That's why women historically tend to vote for Democrats disproportionately more than for Republicans, the so-called gender gap. In fact, we hate women so much, most Democratic politicians support the most important issue for a lot of women, the right to have control over their own body.

We also hate Catholics. This explains why Catholics have traditionally favored the Democrats, and why the only party to ever get a Catholic in the presidency was the Democratic party. (In fact, I do believe we Dems are the only major party to ever nominate a Catholic for the office, as we did at least 3 times: in 1928, 1960, and 2004).

Our hatred of African-Americans is everywhere apparent. Of the 43 black members of the 109th Congress--42 Representatives and one Senator--every single one is a Democrat. Blacks tend to vote for Democratic presidential candidates by a comfortable 90% margin. Hispanics also tend to vote for Democrats nationally. Out of the 24 Hispanics in the 109th congress, 19 are Democrats. Ergo, for all you Spanish-speakers out there: Los Demócratas no son el amigo de personas Hispanas.

I'm sorry that I have to spell out the blatantly obvious. But it almost makes you wonder if Bush chose these nominees because of their race/gender/religious affiliation. Of course, he wouldn't be that cynical, now would he?

Nonetheless Republicans are furious that the Senate Democrats appear to be taking their constitutional duty to "advise and consent" presidential nominees seriously. As I pointed out in a previous post, so far Democrats have confirmed more than 200 of Bush's judicial nominees and are currently blocking only 7. That's more than 95% success rate for Bush, but that's apparently not good enough. Keep in mind that Republicans blocked far more of Clinton's nominees for petty political reasons and you didn't hear Democrats talking about abolishing the filibuster or finding some other procedural slight of hand to make the minority powerless. As I've already covered the folly of what Trent Lott termed, and what the Republicans called, the "nuclear option" (until they realized the term's radioactive connotations and chose the more pleasant-sounding "constitutional option; as Josh Marshall pointed out, "It's the Crybaby Option. 'Oh, boo-hoo, we only got 95% of what we wanted so we're changing the rules. Waaaaah!' Sort of like at a seven-year-old's birthday party where they want the parent to change the rules of Pin the Tail on the Donkey because they're not winning every time." ) I don't need to make that case here.

The most troubling aspect of this whole thing is tonight's event itself. It takes place at a church. It's title is "Justice Sunday: Stopping the Filibuster Against People of Faith." First off, there is nothing about the filibuster that "people of faith" should oppose on religious grounds. Yes, it has been used to stymie civil rights legislation, but has also been put to good use. It is neither inherently moral, nor immoral. Nor is it mentioned anywhere in the Bible or in the works of any Biblical scholar or theologian I know of. So, it's really not a religious issue.

Then we come to that title. The Democrats are using the filibuster against people of faith for that reason alone is the implication. Hmmm.... Sounds a lot like what they say anytime Democrats oppose a member of a minority group. Rather than have an honest discussion on the individual's qualifications and beliefs, the Republicans have again resorted to name-calling.

This is maddening for two reasons. One, if Democrats hated people of faith, since more than 90% of Americans routinely identify themselves with some religion, we wouldn't win any elections, now would we? So, it's not "people of faith" is it? It's people of a certain faith: the kind of politicized Christianity that condones the death penalty, but loathes abortion; that wants to give tax cuts to the rich and cut social services to the poor; that rails against peaceful organizations like the UN but never met a war waged by a Republican president it didn't like.

The problem is not that these Christians have these beliefs. It is the assumption they make that all people of faith share them, and if you don't agree with them, then ergo, you are not a person of faith. We've already seen how Republicans have appropriated the American flag. Patriotism is a solely Republican virtue. A Democrat who won many awards in Vietnam due to his heroism is vilified as a coward, while neither of his opponents were willing to even fight in that war and in fact went to great lenghts to avoid such service. Obviously the patriotism of the men who did everything possible to avoid serving their nation on the field of battle trumps the patriotism of the man who volunteered for duty and showed true heroism in combat. Obviously you can't be a Democrat and really love your country. In fact, liberals and Democrats secretly hate our nation and root for its destruction, conservatives such as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and many right-wing bloggers claim.

Now they are making faith a litmus test as well. Many Christians oppose the death penalty, take the biblical injunction literally to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable", and take the message of Jesus to be one of peace rather than war. We are Liberal Christians. We do not claim that you cannot be a true Christian if you disagree with us on matters of interpretation, if you place emphasis on different issues than we do. But we do insist that our views are as in keeping with the Bible (if not more so) as yours.

Christianity in America has to a large extent been hijacked by the right. The Christian Right has a definite set of goals: ending abortion; banning euthanasia; "bringing God back into the schools and public life" (goverment endorsement of their faith to the certain detriment of others); banning the teaching of evolution, the Big Bang theory, carbon-dating, and any other established scientific fact or theory that contradicts a literal interpretation of Genesis; and regulating media content to filter out "offensive material", just to name a few.

Because the Christian Right in this country has organized politically, while the Chrisitian Left has not, the Right has been able to set the moral issues agenda. That's why there was all the media coverage of Terry Schiavo but not of third-word debt, so much about the morality of abortion but not about the morality of the death penalty, so much about welfare cheats but so little about the Bible's call for social justice and spreading economic opportunity, so much about fighting the teaching of evolution in our schools and not enough about fighting AIDS in Africa, so much about free trade but so little about fair trade, so much about offensive images or words on TV and not a whisper about the deeply offensive crimes against humanity taking place in Darfur even as I type this. The former are now considered "Christian" issues while the latter are not. Thus when it comes to discussion on issues Christians care about in this country, only one side is consistently heard.

This imbalance has serious implications for the Christian church in America. No party has a monopoly on God. Especially not the Republican party. Seriously, the party of Tom DeLay is the party of God? Don't make me laugh!

So, what could account for last Sunday's weird mixing of religion and political opportunism? The cynic might suggest that, as Karl Marx postulated, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." At least it helps distract from meddlesome political scandals. Whenever your poll numbers are sinking, you're mired in scandal, and you've played the "media bias" card and that just hasn't worked, play the "God card." It allows yourself to appear the martyr while distracting the media and your constituents from the your ethically/legally questionable actions.

There is another explanation. The thing Republicans rail against most passionately is "judicial activism." Those liberal judges are threatening the moral fabric of our nation by their decisions that don't reflect sound judicial reasoning, they claim. The only problem with this complaint is that Republicans truly are upset about judicial activism: they want more of it! That's right. Why didn't those judges intervene to stop a perfectly legal process in the Terry Schaivo case? Why didn't they intervene to keep Elian Gonzales here in violation of federal law? The same people who decry Roe v. Wade as "judicial activism" wonder: why doesn't the Supreme Court prevent any woman anywhere in America from getting an abortion? Do they not see the irony? To them, the problem isn't "judicial activism"; it's that the courts are upholding the law rather than being judicial activists for the Christian Right's ideological causes.

So now the matter becomes clearer. At root, this is about the attempt of the Christian Right to impose its beliefs on the rest of the nation. The Democrats won't let them stack the courts with unqualified right-wing extremists, so the independence of the judiciary must go.

Already Tom Delay has said "We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse." The Los Angeles Times (sorry, registration is required) reports that: "The March conference featuring James Dobson and [Tony] Perkins, [president of the Family Research Council] showed that the evangelical leaders, in addition to working to place conservative nominees on the bench, have been trying to find ways to remove certain judges. Perkins said that he had attended a meeting with congressional leaders a week earlier where the strategy of stripping funding from certain courts was 'prominently' discussed. 'What they're thinking of is not only the fact of just making these courts go away and re-creating them the next day but also defunding them,' Perkins said. He said that instead of undertaking the long process of trying to impeach judges, Congress could use its appropriations authority to 'just take away the bench, all of his staff, and he's just sitting out there with nothing to do.' These curbs on courts are 'on the radar screen, especially of conservatives here in Congress,' he said.

"Dobson, who emerged last year as one of the evangelical movement's most important political leaders, named one potential target: the California-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals."Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court," Dobson said. "They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th Circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone."

I think it's fair to say we've finally reached the point where the Republican party's pandering to the Christian Right has become a clear and present danger to the future of American democracy as we know it. The Founding Fathers created a secular government that gave protection to the minority from abuse by the majority. Then as now, the majority of Americans were Christian. But it is hard to imagine they'd approve of a government that is held hostage to the demands of a determined faction of American Christians. That's what's behind the attempt to abolish the filibuster: an assault on the very fabric of our Republic.