Today's rant was inspired by an article in the Sunday New York Times, which has given me an opportunity to complain about one of my pet notions- the explanation for the fact that the Republican party has totally let go of any responsibility to deal with reality, and just seems free to blab out whatever suits their purpose at the moment. Most people in the media who even dare mention this startling development seem to treat it, as the Times does, as some sort of mass attack of hypocrisy; I think they are wrong about that. But first, let me present some of the Times' argument to set the stage:
"G.O.P. Turns to the Courts to Aid Agenda
WASHINGTON — As Republicans prepare to take full control of Congress on Tuesday, the party’s leaders are counting on judges, not their newly elected majority on Capitol Hill, to roll back President Obama’s aggressive second-term agenda and block his executive actions on health care, climate change and immigration.
On health care, Republicans in Washington have sued the president and joined state lawsuits urging the Supreme Court to declare major parts of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. On climate change, state attorneys general and coal industry groups are urging federal courts to block the president’s plan to regulate power plants. And on immigration, conservative lawmakers and state officials have demanded that federal judges overturn Mr. Obama’s plan to prevent millions of deportations.
Democrats say the legal moves reflect a convenient turnabout for the Republican Party and a newfound willingness to seek an active role for the judiciary when it benefits conservative policy goals..."
Conservatives have railed about "judicial activism" for years, but the minute it suits their purpose they resort to it without a moment's hesitation. In the same manner, States' rights has been a rallying cry of Conservatives since 1828, but the minute it stands in their way (the classic example being when they had a chance to steal the 2000 Presidential election) out the window it goes. And we are all familiar with their ranting about fiscal restraint whenever Democrats want to spend a dollar, but when Republicans are in power, the deficit explodes, without a shred of concern from them. We all (I hope) remeber Dick Cheney's cynical comment in 2004:
"Reagan proved that deficits don't matter. We won the mid-term elections, this is our due."
As i mentioned above, this is always chalked up to hypocrisy or mere opportunism, but I think there is more at work here than that. And what is really happening here is an infection that took place when Republicans began to systematically mix religion and politics. However, this infection did not spread from politics to religion, as right wing politicians rushed to exploit the gullibility of large masses of people; in fact, the infection spread the other way, from religion to politics. It is this which is the subject of my comment.
I must diverge for a moment to discuss something known as Christian Apologetics:
"Christian apologetics (Greek: ἀπολογία, "verbal defence, speech in defence") is a field of Christian theology which attempts to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defending the faith against objections.
Christian apologetics have taken many forms over the centuries, starting with Paul the Apostle in the early church and Patristic writers such as Origen, Augustine of Hippo, Justin Martyr and Tertullian, then continuing with writers such as Thomas Aquinas and Anselm of Canterbury during Scholasticism."
Apologetics has, as you can see, a very respectable history, going far back in time, and featuring the works of some of the Church's greatest thinkers. However, anyone who has actually tried to read, say, Aquinas' Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle will know that these writings are among the most abstruse and difficult to comprehend religious texts ever written. There is, however, a substrate of apologetics, pushed not by great thinkers, but by religious proselytizers like the Moody Bible Institute, or the "educators" at Liberty University or Regent University. This branch of learning is devoted not to abstruse philosophical commentary, but to developing a systematic argumentative technique- a one-way strategy that can have no outcome except the desired one, and in which no intellectual honesty exists in any way from the practitioner. It is designed to convince the unbeliever, while crushing any possibility that there can be any communication from the unbeliever to the Christian. I think that anyone who has spent time talking to Evangelicals has encountered the result of this attitude in their absolute impermeability to any sort of reason.
A "justification" for this technique, which is nothing more than an open form of dishonesty, is, so they claim, to be found in their belief that if someone does not accept what they are saying, that person is doomed to eternal damnation by their loving God. Thus, no matter what sort of deviousness is necessary to manipulate the non-believer, it is in his best interest in the next life to be persuaded. Looked at from outside, this is a classic example of "ends justify the means" thinking, but it is appealing to those who want to stoke their egos with the feeling that they are in posession of absolute truth and are acting as the agents of almighty God.
Whatever the intent of the practitioner of this linguistic dark art, the results are predictable: in the hands of most, it quickly becomes an excuse to say anything, whether the speaker believes it or not, in order to achieve his goals. And when stripped of even the minimal morality that Evangelical Christianity might be supposed to have, and applied to political discourse, something really bizarre is the result.
I must diverge here to say something obvious about how the rest of us think. When we enter into a political discussion, regardless of our prejudices or preconceptions, we do it with at least a committment to say what we really believe, and to try to move toward some kind of truth. This seems to be so obviously the point of our conversations, that it never occurs to us that someone else would systematically be doing something totally different. Yet, for Conservatives, that is not what their conversation is about at all. For them, their pronouncements are not intended to find the truth, but simply to get what they want at that moment. As with the Evangelicals trying to save the infidels from damnation, they have freed themselves from the petty restraints of honesty in pursuit of a higher goal. Of course, their higher goal generally consists of nothing but lowering their own taxes, but that doesn't stop them from applying the mental gymnastics, originally developed to a fine art by the religious, to justify the most blatant dishonesty. This is the reason that they can spend years railing about issues like States' rights or judicial restraint, only to throw them out the window the second they don't produce the desired results. This is not hypocrisy because they are not going against what they believe; they are just seizing on whatever intellectual tool will achieve the desired result. It is no more hypocritical than switching from a flat screwdriver to a Phillips one, when they have a Phillips screw to remove. Of course, licensing oneself to tell any kind of lie to achieve one's goals is grossly dishonest, but it is not hypocritical.
So we come to the greatest achievment in all of Conservative thought: the systematic creation of an entire alternate reality in which whatever they want is clearly justified. This is the reality where cutting taxes on the rich increases government revenue, where whatever vestigial racism is left in this country is the work of Blacks, where our mild mannered middle of the road President is at one time both a Communist and a secret Muslim infiltrator, where the Iraq war was a tremendous success, where torture isn't torture, where giving health care to millions is a crime against the American people, where Republicans cut the deficit and Democrats increase it, and where even Hitler is a liberal.
And many people claim to believe all of this- not because they really do, but because it licenses their greed and hatred and love of violence. This anti-rational unleashing of the worst aspects of the human condition is the price we pay for standing idly by while they force their will on the country and on the world.