Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The politics of selective piety

I believe that all of us in this room are the unique creations of a God who knows us and loves us and who created us for His own purpose.

I believe that we are created in the image of God for a particular purpose. And I believe that with all my heart….I am fully convinced there’s a God of the universe that loves us very much…

I believe in God, believe in the Bible, I believe Jesus Christ is my savior. I believe God created man in His image.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the hand of God was in what we are today. And I do believe that we are unique, and I believe that God loves us.

We have great gifts in this country that come to us from God.

Excerpts from a Sunday church sermon? Heck, no. Those are excerpts from last night’s 10-candidate Republican presidential debate.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with bringing religion into the public square, and, besides, those five white guys (Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani, respectively) are vying with the other five white guys for the primary season votes of conservative Christians. The problem is, many Americans take a dim view of politicians who wear their piety on their sleeves – especially when these politicians proceed to selectively apply their moral values in ways that are less than saintly.

Consider, for instance, the discussion last night about the role of gays in the military. We may all be God’s creatures, but apparently some creatures are less equal than others, even at a time when everyone is presumably needed to fight the terrorists. So sayeth Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani’s candidacy hinges on whether he can play the 9/11 card and convince Americans that he’s the strong man who can best protect them from the terrorists “who want to kill us all.” One might thus assume that, during this national emergency, he would welcome all Americans into the fight to save our civilization. But he does not.

Last night, host Wolf Blitzer asked: “Mayor Giuliani, recently we’ve learned that several talented, trained linguists — Arabic speakers, Farsi speakers, Urdu speakers, trained by the U.S. government to learn those languages to help us in the war on terrorism — were dismissed from the military because they announced they were gays or lesbians. Is that, in your mind, appropriate?"

And Giuliani replied that the dismissals were appropriate, and that he would not change the current rules. He said, “This is not the time to deal with disruptive issues like this…At a time of war, you don’t make fundamental changes like this.”

Hang on…Isn’t “a time of war” precisely the right time to allow all of God’s creatures to pitch in, especially (in Giuliani’s formulation) when western Christian values are being threatened by global jihadists? Reports indicate that as many as 10,000 service members, including hundreds of language specialists, have already been dismissed by the military because they were openly gay. Is it really Christian, or even pragmatically wise, to undercut the war on terror in this fashion?

Yes, everybody on stage said.

For instance, Mitt Romney heartily agreed with Giuliani, even though (big surprise!) Romney felt very differently when he was running for office in Massachusetts back in 1994. Back then, Romney said gays should be allowed to serve openly and honestly (apparently, at the time, he felt that his stance was totally consistent with his religious piety). But today, it’s a different story: “This is not the time to put in place a major change, a social experiment, in the middle of a war going on. I wouldn’t change it at this point. We can look at down the road. But it does seem to me that we have much bigger issues as a nation we ought to be talking about than that policy right now.”

There are “bigger issues” than rallying all hands to fight the war on terror? Never mind, let’s move on.

Other moral values include recognizing the difference between right and wrong; recognizing that lying is wrong; respecting the rule of law. But somehow, those values were in abeyance last night when then Republican candidates were asked their opinion about the convicted felon who was formerly employed as Dick Cheney’s top guy.

Scooter Libby was tagged with a 30-month stint in the slammer yesterday – the federal judge, who had been appointed to his job by President Bush, said there was “overwhelming evidence” of Libby’s guilt on four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice – but somehow that didn’t mean much to the Republican candidates.

With the exception of fringe candidate Tom Tancredo, they didn’t recommend that Bush pardon Libby, but they were outraged nonetheless at the way Libby has been treated. Giuliani, in particular, complained that “there was no underlying crime involved,” because nobody had been prosecuted for any leak of classified information in the Valerie Plame case, and some of his rivals agreed (“The basic crime here didn’t happen,” said Brownback).

So here’s the Republican bible on selective morality: If a high official of a Republican administration lies under oath and obstructs justice in order to impede a national security investigation, and to prevent a prosecutor from even determining whether an “underlying crime” had been committed,” that’s perfectly fine. But if a Democratic president lies under oath to impede a sex investigation (even when there was no underlying crime, since the sex with Monica Lewinsky was consensual, no illegal), those are sufficient grounds for throwing the president out of office – because, after all, perjury for any reason is not only wrong, it is also a violation of “the rule of law.”

Indeed, the candidates lavished more Christian charity on Scooter Libby than on Bush. At one point last night, several (but, regrettably, not all of them) were asked: “How would you use George W. Bush in your administration?”

The replies were priceless. Tommy Thompson tried a quip: “I certainly would not send him to the United Nations.” This didn’t go over too well with the Republicans in the audience; some laughed awkwardly, while others gagged, sounding like the mob guy who Silvio strangled the other night on The Sopranos. Apparently it was bad form to acknowledge the damage that Bush has done to our international standing.

But Thompson wasn’t through yet. He said of Bush, “I would put him out on a lecture series, talking to the youth of America” about “honesty” and “integrity.” That seemed to calm the audience, but it probably triggered the gag reflex among those viewers (actually, the majority of Americans) who now believe that Bush deliberately mislead America into war.

Brownback treated the question as if it was a live grenade: “Well, I would talk with him about it first and I would ask him about it. I think he would probably take a position the way his dad did, saying, you know, I think ‘you need to have your time in the limelight.’” Then he suggested that Bush perhaps could help “if you have a tragedy overseas.” And then he employed the GOP’s all-purpose exit strategy: He attacked Bill Clinton. Apparently Clinton, as a former president, has inappropriately “injected himself a lot more on policy issues” than he should have, although Brownback didn’t bother to name any.

Later in the debate, when Brownback was asked to name Bush's biggest mistake, he uttered one word - "spending" - then he cut and ran by changing the subject, and talking about his interest in "ending deaths by cancer in 10 years." Romney answered the same question about Bush by smoothly seguing into - you guessed it - the GOP's other all-purpose exit strategy: "Ronald Reagan had a vision for where he was going to take America..."

We’ll have another eight or nine months of these kinds of debates, until the primary season is essentially over. But nobody would suggest that God decreed this extended calendar. No, this is entirely man’s handiwork.