Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It means that they're losing

Steve Benen notes the rise of Republicans rebelling against church-state separation, and asks an astute question before getting too hyperbolic:
But putting aside the fact that these unhinged Republicans simply have no idea what they're talking about, I have a related concern: what is it, exactly, they'd replace church-state separation with?
Liberals like to freak out about this stuff, and maybe I'm too sanguine about it. But I'm not that worried because there is absolutely no content to these rantings. There's no argument, no priorities, no solutions. I'm sure people like Buck and Angle believe what they're saying, but this all comes across as crude cultural signaling to me, with a certain desperation that seems to scream, "I don't know what I'm doing." And let's be honest: neither Sharron Angle nor Ken Buck is terribly bright, neither are very good politicians, and in a normal year neither one would be the nominee for anything. Fearing a secret plan from these guys seems perverse to me--not that I'm saying that we should not worry about having people with their sensibility in public office, but rather that they're more likely to ultimately make their causes more radioactive through their efforts than to make them more appealing.

I generally don't have much respect for the political abilities of George W. Bush, but I think his team was smart in the way they went about pursuing church-state synergy. They took a position that wasn't (and still isn't) all that popular, that there should be more cooperation between the church and the state, but spelled out what that would mean--like faith based initiatives--in a way that made most people either happy or indifferent. Of course this program was abused to some extent (and one hears stories about Focus on the Family writing government policy on reproductive rights, of course), and I think it wasn't really a great idea in the first place, since churches can already apply for federal contracts so long as they obey certain limitations. But Bush's initiative was sold in such a way that it sounded like a good thing to people who didn't know much about it. Money for religious charities is very politically appealing.

But the fact is that the concept of church-state cooperation has been losing steam. A recent poll showed broad unpopularity for the concept (though with some support for particular cases like religious displays on government premises). Hell, even most Texans don't like the broad concept of bringing religion and government together. Bush's administration seemed to understand this and tried to keep their agenda on this matter specific, as some of the concrete aspects of religion-state synergy are reasonably popular. But then there was the evangelical tone of Bush's administration, the increasing vitriol of the religious right, and the religious-inflected Bush wars, which together did great damage to the overall concept of breaking down the church-state wall. As America becomes decreasingly religious and increasingly secular on a personal level, one expects the religious right to become more desperate in maintaining its position, which only seems to contribute to the aforementioned secularism. What does all this mean? It means we're winning.

And for the record, there is a clarification that needs to be made here. The right has become conditioned to believing that "church-state separation" means "people of faith should not be in politics", which is something nobody really believes. It doesn't mean that one's faith (or lack thereof) won't affect one's politics. My faith certainly does. Ultimately, what we're talking about is the principle that religion alone shouldn't be the basis for public policy decisions.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.