Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Political Religion Mangles Politics and Religion


Don't get me wrong. I'm all for harmony and understanding -- and I hope dreams of genuine good-faith dialogues are fulfilled. Maybe humbled Republicans and gracious Democrats will embrace; maybe they'll hear the call to "get things done" and steer us from fiscal and environmental cliffs; maybe they'll even walk hand-in-hand through meadows, whispering sweet nothings about how our revered founders abhorred political parties. But I wouldn't bet on it. Charles Krauthammer is already speculating on new conspiracies and Senator Lindsey Graham has been downright churlish -- and then there's Franklin Graham. Let's all make sure we sling some mud before Turkey Day.
There is a failure here, and it is not just to communicate. Our breakdown runs even deeper than this year's campaign oratory, which evoked memories of Herbert Hoover's 1936 Republican Convention speech. The former president drilled the New Deal with the subtlety of a spinal tap: "The march of Socialist or Fascist dictatorships and their destruction of liberty did not set out with guns and armies. Dictators (in Central Europe) began their ascent to the seats of power through the elections provided by liberal institutions. They flung the poison of class hatred."
Hokay, Mr. I'm-not-resentful-because-FDR-drubbed-me-four-years-ago...
We're beyond the mere need for civil discourse. Our minds are askew. We actually believe our own rhetoric as an article of faith. We no longer know how to talk because we no longer know how to think. We're thrusting religious categories onto politics, and that's true of both pious and secular fundamentalists. Classical politicians are pragmatists in their heart of hearts. They've wended their way through local and state governments, where the grand debates center around zoning regulations, potholes, sewer lines, schools and budgets. Old school city pols made sure Mrs. O'Leary got her groceries and medicine. It was practical vs. impractical and useful vs. unworkable, all under the umbrella of the law and agreed-upon values. We'll compromise with our opposing "friends" because the people elected them as well. Sure we have ideals, and we'll salute Old Glory with relish, but that's because Old Glory symbolizes our practical approach. Political ideals serve people, not vice versa.
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