Well, I suppose I should concede that there are several reasons the Republican party snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.
The one we’ll visit with here comes to us from John Alley of the Fredericksburg Coalition of Reason (FredCoR). It seems Al Bedrosian (R – Roanoke County, Va) needs to go away for a little while. Unlike most of his colleagues, some even from the other side of the isle who get elected spouting off about god-ditty-god-god, Al actually believes the undiluted fecal matter he is shoveling. Worse, he wants to create a little county-wide theocracy in the heart of Virginia, birthplace of the Religious Freedom Statute and genesis of the First Amendment. Bedrosian not only believes that people need to pray to a god at county meetings, but they need to pray to the god of the Christian New Testament only. His “reasoning” process is truly Orwellian, a label I usually reserve for my liberal targets. By letting another flavor of prayer to be heard, or none at all in his presence, is denying HIM his religious freedom. Put another way, you must pray as directed by him and his ilk or we are thwarting THEIR liberty. Put another way still, he believes laws should be passed that say you will be Christian or you are not permitted to pray at County events. Would someone be kind enough to ask Mr. Bedrosian if non-christians should wear a big, yellow “NC” on the shirts so he can see who might be trying to sneak a prayer to the wrong god at county meetings and town picnics?
Here’s the rub: When politicians, sadly and all too often, Republicans, bring their gods into their political races and offices, they make voting for them difficult. (Full disclosure: I am a fiscal conservative. I am registered republican and usually identify as such.) Goldwater, who a lot of liberals now miss for his timeless even-handedness, warned against the rise of fanatical Christian movement and what it would do to the party. To their credit, the average voter, in hopes of finding somebody who might just start to address the real issues, have looked past the religious pandering and voted for these guys anyway. They are sometimes rewarded with bills that try to get Big Brother out of our way so we can live our lives. Sometimes. They are also often made to feel foolish when the god guy gets caught stuffing his tongue down a political aide’s throat in hotel hallways, among other activities.
Statement released: “Oh, I’m flawed. I fired the aide and ruined her life. Now I am praying to god and asking my family’s forgiveness.”
What he is really thinking: “Hey, this is what people do. I try to respect the artificial restrictions we place on ourselves, but she’s really hot.”
Bedrosian is simply the worst of the lot in making things difficult for Republicans seeking office.
To win and win consistently, Republicans and fiscal conservatives specifically, must accept a few basic truths.
- Only a minority in the party actually cares what sky daddy the candidate prays to. While certain individual candidates from very small homogeneous districts must – sincerely or otherwise – claim a deep and abiding faith in one religious brand or other, the American population as a whole has moved far beyond being impressed by religious credentials. The more a candidate plays at religion, the less impressed the larger electorate is. While old-school, the political handlers and statisticians say it is risky to run a candidate who doesn’t pay lip service to a god. I would submit that it is, nowadays, unproductive or in some places counter-productive to do so. Keep your religiosity to yourself. It doesn’t carry a single argument outside the choir loft.
- There are more non-religious colleagues in office than most realize, causing doubts about the veracity of religious identification by pols. Religiously non-affiliated people represent a rapidly growing percentage of the population. As many as 25% of people, according to some polls identify as non-affiliated, 16-20% are agnostic or atheist. Yet, we are expected to believe that 534 out of 535 members of congress and every single president and vice president are humbly faithful to some mystical interpretation of a god. This among a cadre of the most bloated egos in the country. While I acknowledge that an outsized ego isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a person in a position of power, it doesn’t lend itself to bended-knee pleading and impracticable beliefs.
- Encouraging identity politics while trying to repair a country is a fools errand. FDR was the first master of divide and conquer electoral politics. He couldn’t subdivide the population often or quickly enough. His particular favorite was economic class envy but he wasn’t immune to using sex or race as well. The result was great for Democrats, not so good for the country. Such divisiveness has never served the republicans well. Only the former Democrats that switched to Republican in the 60s and early 70s ever benefited. Also, an us versus them message is an anathema to the correct social contract conservatives need to draw in order to fix this ailing country. The free market doesn’t give a damn for the color of your skin, your religious beliefs or with whom you wish to mate. It only demands participation. And the free market is the last best hope to repair our economy, put people to work and dampen enthusiasm for those who insist only they or god can build your life for you.
Reasonable people can debate the previous two paragraphs. But there is more to the impact of people like Bedrosian. The most dangerous aspect of all this is that the people he is pandering to, are like the devoted of all faiths. The more ludicrous the demonstration of faith, the more fanatical the proclamation, the more admiration the practitioner on display garners. Padre Pio leaps to mind.
Why is it dangerous, you ask? When the secular realism that made the country great is set aside, and little tin-pot theocrats like Bedrosian gain a voice, resentment of others and from others is the most immediate result. A fuse is lit. Fortunately, our culture has often seen through such silly social power grabs, tarted up as religion and dampened the fuse with equal parts reason and ridicule, the end result being a return to some sense of normalcy.
But in recent decades there has been growing attention given to people who spout about god and the state while financing diamond mines off of the social security checks of old ladies ,among other rubes. The majority used to laugh. Now the majority remain silent. You don’t want to be seen as intolerant, right?
Well, two weeks ago the Supreme court actually said that a denominational prayer before a state function doesn’t throw into doubt the fair treatment of people NOT of that denomination. And so starts the slide. Small towns will bicker over whose god is the right god and who says the right prayers. Resentment will fester. Allegiances will form while others will fade. A with-us-or-against-us attitude among religious advocates will evolve. You WILL start to see the treatment of other or non-religious change by the congregation in charge. You WILL see a gradual legalization of unequal treatment by local or more numerous regional religious groups. Laugh if you want, but in 1641 England slid into a bloody civil war over the use of the right prayer book. Our political zoo, and a quick scan of any Facebook feed tells me we are not far advanced from that time, and in some ways, less so.
It has always been said that god has been the reason for the success of this country; not so. The various gods and various filtrations of god’s groups have always been happy to give “him” the credit. The truth is that reason and science have advanced American exceptionalism, not myth. That is not something reasonable, educated people can debate so easily. If anything, religion has slowed our rate of advance here as it has everywhere throughout history.
If the Republican party doesn’t put a leash on people like Bedrosian, they will continue to lose elections that were theirs to walk away with. More importantly, if reasonable people don’t loudly and directly reject his ilk, this nation will continue its slide into a cesspool of identity politics and national failure.