Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Demagogues United for the Real America

If the mid-term election results proved anything, it was the fallacy of the red state / blue state "two Americas" theory hyped by the media since 2000. November taught us that if a 60/40 victory constitutes a landslide, then our most powerful political element is the vast ideological center. Pleasing "the base" on either side is useful, but races are won and lost on the shifting alliances of the pragmatic.

Despite this lesson, certain members of Congress are already out of the gate for 2008 with old-school demagoguery calculated to energize the "real America." Take, for instance, Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA). Goode could not remain on the sidelines while the right-wing media lambasted incoming Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) over the planned use of a Koran at his ceremonial swearing-in next month. Never mind that the event is a photo-op, the actual oath being taken en masse and without any religious texts. And never mind that Ellison would not be the first to use a book omitting the New Testament--Hebrew Bibles and the Book of Mormon have served the purpose without incident. The good Rep. Goode felt the need to warn his constituents that
if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. . . . I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.
Goode later fretted to the press that if immigration is not restricted, we may have "a majority of Muslims elected to the United States House of Representatives."

Addressing this last point first, if we assume that Goode believes naturalized citizens usually vote for their coreligionists, he must therefore believe that America is in danger of absorbing enough Muslims to outnumber our roughly 200 million Christians. I wonder how he squares this projection with the usual anti-immigration bogeyman: the tidal wave of illegal Latinos necessitating (and apparantly taking jobs on) the Southern border fence project. Last time I checked, most of these folks tend to be, um, Christian.

With regard to the proposal that Ellison be required to use a Bible, I suppose Goode has probably heard that Article VI of the pesky old Constitution forbids religious tests for office. (And indeed permits an affirmation of office, rather than an oath--an option exercised by Presidents Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover.) But then, politicians of Goode's stripe have never been too concerned about Constitutional restrictions on theocratic government.

One might pause, though, to consider the reason behind the use of religious texts in oath-taking. The whole idea of an oath is that it is a promise of especial solemnity, one on which the obligation to make good goes beyond the ordinary ethics of keeping one's word. Swearing on a sacred text is meant to invoke divine judgment on the oath-taker's later fealty to the promise. In earlier times, Roman Catholics swore by placing their hands on a cloth used to cover the Eucharist, quite literally swearing a "corporeal oath" on the body of Jesus Christ. So if the point of Ellison's swearing an oath of office is to make a really, really important promise to do a good job--one that he had better not break, or else--then maybe it would make sense to let him use the book he believes sacred? It seems like swearing on the New Testament for a non-Christian is rather akin to swearing with one's fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, the confirmation of federal district court appointee Janet Neff is on hold because Judge Neff, currently on the Michigan Court of Appeals, had the audacity to attend a neighbor's same-sex commitment ceremony in Massachusetts. This was not a same-sex wedding, mind you; it took place in 2002, before the Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriage in the Bay State. Nor did Judge Neff preside at the ceremony; even had same-sex marriages then been legal in Massachusetts, a Michigan judge would have had no authority to perform one.

Such distinctions do not matter to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), eying a presidential run in 2008. Mere attendance at such a Satanic function is enough to taint Neff, never mind that she is a Bush appointee and already vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Brownback has put a hold on Neff's nomination until such time as her confirmation hearing can be re-opened for testimony regarding her role in the ceremony, her legal views on same-sex unions, and her ability to rule impartially on the issue.

I had not realized that bias-by-association was such a concern in judicial confirmations, but now I'm worried for my own future. If I'm ever nominated to the federal bench, I'll have to explain my attendance at my cousin's public high school graduation back in 1987. I distinctly remember it opening with a prayer, and I suppose I'll have to defend my ability to rule impartially on Establishment Clause issues. Oh yes, and lately I've been seen frequenting an obstetrician's office. This is only a guess, but I'll bet that sometime in her training the good doctor has performed an abortion.

At least I could testify honestly that neither of these associations took place in Massachusetts. You know, Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts.

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