By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Of course Goldwater hadn’t changed at all. It was conservatism that changed, largely in response to what were seen by many as the ’60s’ countercultural excesses. Libertarian championship of “individual freedom” became a Trojan horse in which lurked more ardently adored values of authority and order; and by the ’80s, the only individual freedoms that conservatives consistently cherished in the specific were the rights to own guns and to make a profit unhindered by government regulation. Wedded to the theocratic psyche, conservatism has upended Goldwaterist notions of how far the government should intrude in individual lives. The most theocratic of any State of the Union ever delivered, the president’s address to Congress three weeks ago not only devoted significant attention but committed public money to a growing governmental role in upholding social values, especially as they have to do with people’s sexuality. Forty years ago a true conservative would have found this repellent if not unthinkable. These are the values that historically have been championed and enforced by theocracies, notably fundamentalist ones. At the height of the terrorist danger in the United States, with a nation constantly teetering between yellow and orange alerts and the news filled with the prospects of a single person at the end of a runway idly blowing out of the sky a major airliner with a small ground-to-air missile, one of the highest priorities of John Ashcroft’s Justice Department has been a sweeping crackdown on the pornography industry of the San Fernando Valley.
In what still purports to be a secular democracy, all of this has taken the form of ideology at its most austere. While there are fair-minded exceptions such as David Brooks of The New York Timesand William Kristol of the Weekly Standard, the more charismatic spokespeople of the right — from perennials O’Reilly and Bennett and Rush Limbaugh to new superstar Sean Hannity and wannabe Joe Scarborough, from grand mavens Phyllis Schlafly and Paul Weyrich to cult figures Michael Savage and Mona Charen, from apostolic fathers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and Gary Bauer and Franklin Graham to congressional powers Tom DeLay and Rick Santorum — are hardly opaque about the American civil war of values that’s at hand. Ann Coulter’s recent Treason: Liberal Treachery From the Cold War to the War on Terrorismmay be the most important American political tract of its generation, because it reveals what many on the right really think. Besides arguing that Islamic countries should be invaded and “Christianized,” Coulter contends that liberals haven’t been just wrong about every single foreign-policy issue of the last half-century but that they consciously wish to hurt America. Along with liberals who are traitors in a society where everyone is too corrupt or squeamish to say so, in the pages of Treasonthe greatest traitor is history itself. It’s incidental that Coulter willfully misunderstands the facts of the Vietnam War. The actual historical facts of the Vietnam War don’t matter; fact exists in opposition to conviction, as knowledge exists in opposition to faith. History is the heresy of ideology as science is the heresy of the church. The understanding of history as it actually happened is a secular pursuit, whereas the transfiguration of history is the pursuit of believers.
“Everyone says liberals love America, too,” writes Coulter. “No, they don’t,” and probably nothing is more indicative of the ineffectuality and incomprehension of secularists in this civil war than that they would argue. Because of course Coulter is right; it’s not her America that secularists love. Secularists love the America of Tom Paine, not Cotton Mather, but they keep trying to reconcile the two, since both are part of America’s story and since in fact such a reconciliation always has been the dream of America and those who invented it. The secular center won’t accept that there’s a culture war going on. In the desire to reach accommodation, secularists acquiesce to the right on the very meaning of Americanism, not to mention definitions of character. “At least he’s a decent man,” someone recently protested to me about George Bush, by which she meant in comparison to the last guy, of course, even when as a matter of public policy such “decency” means the abandonment of AmeriCorps programs, which allowed college students to pay off loans by teaching underprivileged children to read, in contrast with the expansion of the earned-income tax credit by the morally vitiated Clinton, who raised millions of people out of poverty as a result. It’s a decency that impeaches a president for lying about a sexual affair but not about a war. Whatever the many compelling reasons to question whether Howard Dean would ever actually make a good president, the former Vermont governor emerged from obscurity last year to galvanize the Democratic presidential race largely because he wouldn’t acquiesce.
If the president first expressed neither concern nor even dismay two weeks ago at the report of his former chief weapons inspector, David Kay, it was because by the president’s moral lights the Kay report was immaterial. What the public might consider the president’s misrepresentations regarding Iraqi weapons or Iraqi collusion with al Qaeda were only the scriptures that testify to a higher meaning, translated into secularese. It remains to be seen in the coming election whether Democrats have the imagination or courage to run against Bush on the issue of terrorism from the right, as John Kennedy did against Richard Nixon in 1960 on the issue of the Cold War. They would need to mount a major argument that secularism — not “liberalism” or atheism, but a Jeffersonian value system in which reason, proportion and the simplest assumptions of justice are brought to bear upon human judgment — is better suited to defeat radical theologism, given how the president’s theocratic psyche and the ways it articulates itself alienate those in and out of the Islamic world who might otherwise be on our side. To credibly make such an argument, the Democratic Party has to admit what the reflexively pacifist ideology of its own base ignores: that terrorism is not common revolutionary warfare simply seen from another perspective, that what distinguishes terrorism from other warfare is the targeting of people not in spite of their innocence but because of it, and that in practical terms the real problem with the Iraq war is that it hasn’t enhanced American security but diminished it. Gratifying as the capture of Saddam two months ago was, close to a thousand Special Operations forces were pulled out of Afghanistan and off the trail of those who committed the wholesale murders of Americans 29 months ago. Billions of dollars earmarked for the reconstruction of Afghanistan are being funneled into Iraq as the Taliban regroups. While money and resources and lives are poured into Iraq, the ports and harbors of the United States remain unprotected. The rails and infrastructure remain unprotected. The water sources remain unprotected. The nuclear-power plants remain unprotected. As the president and vice president and secretary of defense indulge their obsession with Iraq, and as the sympathy and good will of the world that existed on September 12, 2001, is shattered — somewhere down a cobbled French street blows that edition of Le Monde which ran the headline WE ARE ALL AMERICANS — agents of al Qaeda plot to simultaneously detonate three small nuclear devices in Washington, New York and Los Angeles. What we can imagine, they can as well. The idea of George W. Bush running in the upcoming election as the “national security” candidate would be laughable if it weren’t potentially so calamitous. If Bush were a Democrat, Ann Coulter would call it treason.