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Written by Garrett Riley on August 7, 2012.
While I would like to discuss this as a current trend in the political environment, the perversion of national or state politics by the religious right is a recurring theme throughout the history of the United States. The fact that the religious right will mobilize and demobilize itself depending on the perceived religiosity of the nation should bring hope to those who currently find the religious right reprehensible and dangerous. They are not historically, a continuously politically mobilized force in this nation. Nor have they always been the most vocal group of American Christians throughout history. Garry Wills, himself a liberal theologian in Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America points out that at times often associated by the religious right to be inherently Christian, were quite the opposite.
There has been a recent trend among the American Right and the Tea Party Movement, of which parts of which are heavily aligned with religious right to co-opt the Revolutionary period. They have constructed a new narrative of the period and what these men who lived centuries ago meant for this nation. Combining the ideas of a Christian nation and strict constitutional constructionism, this new narrative reinforces not the agenda of the founding fathers, but their own. The irony of this perspective is that it is in many ways a perversion, not necessarily of what the founding fathers themselves thought, but a perversion of the intents of the institutions of the United States. The idea that a group of people that have shown themselves to be constitutionally illiterate say that their strictest interpretation of the constitution as the founding fathers wrote it is what is not only required by Americans justices, but also desirable for all Americans.
The apparent problem with that assumption is that we are dealing with a group that is either unknowingly constitutionally illiterate or find that areas of the constitution that they find disagreeable to their agenda are irrelevant. A fetish amongst many of these two often intertwined groups since the Tea Party movement has gained considerable media attention and popular support has been the failure of the modern politicians and justices to analyze the constitution as the founding fathers would have. In much the same way that many members of the religious right consider themselves to be biblical literalists, much of the Tea Party see themselves as constitutional literalists, albeit not in regards to the establishment clause in the first amendment or the right to citizenship for individuals born in the United States in the 14th amendment. A fundamentally Christian nation and preventing “anchor babies” citizenship are indeed more important than actual constitutional literalism. Apparently in both the case of the bible and the constitution, cherry picking and literalism can go hand in hand.
This wouldn’t be worrisome if these sentiments were isolated to the fringe. Most rational people do not take the birther and truther movements seriously because they are fringe movements. While painfully poor in constructing their arguments and saying things that are radically offensive, most people see them as being terribly irrational and therefor do note pay any serious attention to their arguments (In the case of both truthers and birthers there has been a comprehensive effort to publicly destroy their arguments and evidence. To these people who devoted significant time to combat this nonsense, I thank you). The problem with the religious right and the Tea Party is that both have escaped the fringe. When a great number of people believe the messages of people who spew misinformation, they act on said misinformation.
The religious right, while isolating itself from public political activity following the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 (Tennessee vs Scopes). They found a chance for brief popular resurgence during the 1950s red scare, succeeding in passing some pro-Christian legislation. The national motto was switched from E Pluribus Unum to In God We Trust and god was also added into the pledge of allegiance as well as our currency. Following the public fall of McCarthy though the religious right falls back into political obscurity until the controversial decision of Roe vs Wade. This resurgence was not to be temporary as was the revival during the Red Scare. Pairing an issue that is fundamentally opposed to the moral sensibilities of the religious rights with mainstream embrasure of new technologies, the televangelist age was born. With this pairing of the rage of the religious right and mass accessibility of their message groups like the Moral Majority are born, their offshoot organizations and schools led to mass politicization.
The tea party, itself started as an offshoot of the 07-08 Ron Paul libertarian movement has been co-opted by the religious right and more fundamentalist aspects of the Republican Party. Originally the Tea Party stood for economic and personal liberty, grabbing onto a branch of neoclassical economics as popularized by Milton Friedman and the philosophy of literature’s favorite solipsist Ayn Rand. This grassroots movement though was quickly hijacked by elements of the right wing media, religious fundamentalists, politicians, and corporations. While some of these groups can rationally fall in line with the philosophical elements of extreme libertarianism, the main thrust of the movement was corrupted by the likes of Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, the Koch Brothers, etc etc.
The notions of personal liberty as a conservative argument have been appropriated by social concerns, and by obfuscating the truth, this movement has been able to actively move to actually deny the personal liberties of Women, Homosexuals, and ethnic minorities. By accusing those deemed as subversive godless liberals of defying the constitution, this conservative movement has been able to do exactly that at a legislative level. They have also been able to dictate the national narrative of current affairs. For example, last year the Obama administration said that it would refuse to defend Article III of the Defense of Marriage Act as they found it to be unconstitutional. With that statement the administration issued the platitude that it would of course not interfere with the enforcement of the law as it stood until it was congressionally or judicially countered. The right-wing of course interpreted this as a direct assault on traditional marriage despite the President’s assurance that the law would be enforced. Across the right wing media spectrum, pundits rushed to declare the president was overstepping his bounds by interfering with laws he had deemed unconstitutional. The problem with this assertion is that it is patently wrong. The office of the President can and has in the past ignored laws they had deemed unconstitutional.
This is not a new development of our increasingly dysfunctional political system. James Wilson, a delegate to the constitutional convention and appointed to the United States supreme court in 1789 wrote,”The President of the United States could shield himself and refuse to carry into effect an act that violates the constitution.” This opinion has been upheld by bastions of the radical left such as Antonin Scalia. Another darling of the radical left, Ronald Reagan has not only gone so far as to not defend a bill he disagreed with, but went so far as to refuse to enforce it, something Obama has refused to do… albeit in the case of Reagan he seemed to assume that because he had been the one to actually sign the law into being, he should also have the right to ignore it.
To end on this notion of perversion politics I think Reagan suites my needs well. One small statement made by this president, beatified by future generations of the political and social right, gives way to their current fetishes.
“Facts are stupid things”
He of course meant to quote John Adams, “Facts are stubborn things.” In this political climate though it seems that Reagan, and not Adams had the truth of it, facts for the current conservative movement in this nation are not stubborn at all, they in fact, do not register as an inconvenience.