It's worth remembering that the Christian Right almost gave up on a “moral majority” in this country during the Clinton years, particularly when, in the midst of the Lewinsky scandal, the Democrats actually picked up seats in the 1998 election. Many prominent figures on the Christian Right openly called for a kind of cultural secession. Give up on this society, they said; home-school your kids. And we'll be back someday.
Well, they're back. The Christian right now has the momentum to make up for, and go beyond, their earlier tactical retreats. Bush showed appreciation for his base by signing the partial-birth abortion ban, one of the steps Kaplan identifies as beginning a process that will end by ultimately reversing Roe v. Wade. Secular social programs have been starved of federal funding, while "faith-based initiatives" have resulted in the awarding of millions of taxpayer dollars in grants to Christian organizations. Kaplan finds it suspicious that there is scant Jewish and Muslim participation in Bush’s faith-based plans, arguing that the government is supporting Christians, though, of course, this is only speculation.
Perhaps the most inauspicious move on the administration’s part was replacing career science experts on committees with Christian fundamentalists to skew data on condoms and stem cells. Kaplan sees this as another instance of Bush’s principle of silencing dissenting information. Now, countries like Israel and South Korea are ahead of the U.S. in extracting stem cells from cloned embryos. Kaplan, though, is really arguing substance, not process; her dogma of science disregards that of religion, but for many people in this country, traditional moral values - as mediated and interpreted by authority figures - are more important than financial or scientific opportunity.
This selective blindness is part of a larger phenomenon. Kaplan believes Bush’s moves are entirely political -- to strengthen his constituency -- even though Bush himself seems to "speak the language" of right-wing Christianity, and even though, if Bush is lying about his religiosity, he has succeeded in fooling legions of true believers. Kaplan seems so wedded to her belief that governments always act in the interests of political expediency, that she cannot conceive that Bush et al might sincerely be acting for the greater good of the community as they see it. Ironically, since Kaplan seems chiefly concerned with a weakening of the Constitution as she understands it, Bush is more of a danger to her values if he is sincere than if he is merely a schemer.
Although I disagree with her conclusions, With God on Their Side is a great book to read: Kaplan keeps it lively with impressive facts and a sarcastic style that rails against the policies of a president who “shed the mantle of moderation very quickly.” Her tone is of wonder, of being awestruck by Bush. She is indignant at his scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours style, and how he has mowed down any obstacle whether he has understood it or not. Kaplan’s book is a clear illustration of his métier, though her liberal lens lends to a baffled tone that fails to understand that, with his charisma, that is how he gets things done. Kaplan's politics lead her to be more baffled than ultimately admiring of the president. Yet her tone is that of one awestruck, as if by a Divine force.
Reality and rhetoric in an election year
Shakey: An Essay on Anger
Giving Thanks to Elijah the Prophet in Indian Manhattan
The Pursuit of Justice
God's Unchanging Hand
Our 610 Back Pages
Neurotic Visionaries & Paranoid Jews
April 7, 2005
Zeek in Print
Fall/Winter 2004 issue now on sale
From previous issues:
Counterculture and Democracy
The Red-Green Alliance