Running Scared: Observations of a Former Republican
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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Progressive Regression

posted by Jazz at 11/04/2004 01:43:00 PM


"One step forward, two steps back."
- Bruce Springsteen

Today, in the NYT, Professor Garry Willis of Northwestern University gives a painful, embarrassing analysis of where this country seems to be heading following this week's election. It's called "The Day the Enlightenment Went Out" and it's well worth a read.

This election confirms the brilliance of Karl Rove as a political strategist. He calculated that the religious conservatives, if they could be turned out, would be the deciding factor. The success of the plan was registered not only in the presidential results but also in all 11 of the state votes to ban same-sex marriage. Mr. Rove understands what surveys have shown, that many more Americans believe in the Virgin Birth than in Darwin's theory of evolution. This might be called Bryan's revenge for the Scopes trial of 1925, in which William Jennings Bryan's fundamentalist assault on the concept of evolution was discredited. Disillusionment with that decision led many evangelicals to withdraw from direct engagement in politics. But they came roaring back into the arena out of anger at other court decisions - on prayer in school, abortion, protection of the flag and, now, gay marriage.

Even if the President was mouthing platitudes about "serving all Americans' in his speech yesterday, he may have precious little choice in the matter. The people who put him into office are harsh taskmasters, doubtless feeling that they are due their pound of flesh. And they intend to get it from bodies of gay rights and personal choice for women.

In his victory speech yesterday, President Bush indicated that he would "reach out to the whole nation," including those who voted for John Kerry. But even if he wanted to be more conciliatory now, the constituency to which he owes his victory is not a yielding one. He must give them what they want on things like judicial appointments. His helpers are also his keepers. The moral zealots will, I predict, give some cause for dismay even to nonfundamentalist Republicans. Jihads are scary things. It is not too early to start yearning back toward the Enlightenment.

This shift from secularity to fundamentalist zeal is making us appear more like our enemies than those we profess to protect.

The secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate. It is not what they had experienced from this country in the past. In fact, we now resemble those nations less than we do our putative enemies. Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein's Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed.

I think that, growing up, I took it far too much for granted that I was able to live in an age when America continued to move forward in terms of enlightenment. The history books were full of it, so why would I question that this was the natural order of things in the United States?

Change sometimes came about slowly, but it came around. It took quite a while to free the slaves, but we managed it. Later on, in the first two decades of the 20th century, we made the bold leap to decide that women (at least the white ones) were entitled to the same rights as (white) men. And finally, in the second half of the centuries, we began breaking down the barriers of color. Change may have been slow to come, but it always came. And always forward. Never in reverse.

The last two decades have seen a growing acceptance of gays and lesbians. There was no reason to suspect that the barriers to equality would not continue to fall. Now, thanks to the actions of a slight but highly zealous majority, we stand at the edge of our first backward progress since we stepped forth as a nation. Women are in jeopardy of losing the right to control their own bodies, and state after state is lining up to deny fundamental family rights to gays and lesbians. And not just to deny them such rights by the actions of individuals - we're legislating the refusal of those rights in constitutional concrete.

The age of enlightenment. What a lovely phrase. Sad to think that we might live to see the end of it in our own lifetimes, or at least a very long term setback. If Bush puts in the Supreme Court Justices that he is so eager to install, your children will be raising their own offspring before the court can be turned back around.

So, to all of you "Security Moms" who decided to vote for Bush, and all of you "young cell phone generation voters" who couldn't be bothered to come out on Tuesday, I salute you. I hope that you feel really secure when your daughters are lying in emergency rooms after a coat hanger rips open their cervix. And if you have gay children or relatives, I hope you can look them in the eyes when you see their civil liberties stripped away. This is one big, fat apple pie which you baked yourself, and now you're going to eat it. Bon appetite'.