Monday, February 12, 2007


Reality-based government

In the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, King Arthur (Graham Chapman) argues politics with peasant Dennis (Michael Palin), here explaining how he became king, since not by popular vote:

Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king!

Dennis: Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony. You can't expect to wield supreme executive power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you. I mean, if I went 'round saying I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!

That's what the Monty Python crew thinks of faith-based government in England in the middle ages.

And what about in the United States today? Very much like King Arthur, our King George thinks he's been chosen by God:

Now, publicly he's very, very wise not to say, “I'm God's candidate.” He's never said that that I know of. He's never said that, “God absolutely wants me to run, and I'm the person he wants in the White House.” Privately, he has said those things. He said he believes that he is God's candidate, that God has chosen him — not necessarily to the exclusion of any other leaders somewhere else. But clearly that he is a person chosen by God at this particular point and time to represent the interests, not only of a nation, but the guidance of God at a troubled time in the country. It's something he absolutely believes.
-- Wayne Slater, Austin bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News, speaking on PBS's Frontline

The megalomania evident in that would be bad enough, but one could overlook it if he were balanced otherwise. If we didn't see the hypocrisy of his deriding Saddam Hussein for frequent invocations of Allah and his denunciation of Iran as a theocracy, while he himself invokes God at every opportunity, attends and makes public addresses at “prayer breakfasts”,[1] and has a six-year history of faith-based policy.

He has said that freedom is a gift from God, and that it's our responsibility, as the greatest nation in the world, to share that gift. It's partly due to that proselytizing attitude that we've brought the “gift of freedom” to an Iraq whose streets are littered daily with dead bodies.

He opposes gay marriage based on his faith, and seeks to ban it with legislation, constitutional amendments, and judicial appointments.

He has made anti-abortion policy based on his faith, pushing legislation and using judicial appointments to try to overturn the precedent for freedom.

He has severely restricted medical research on embryonic stem cells based on his faith, ignoring the advice of doctors and scientists, and even of many of his conservative supporters.

While this isn't from faith, it further points out his related refusal to accept scientific advice: he unilaterally withdrew us from the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse-gas emissions, pushed the horrid and misnamed “Clear Skies Initiative”, and continues to deny the global warming problem, all in defiance of a pile of scientific and environmental evidence. His ignorance of science and preference to defer to faith instead makes him an environmental disaster.

He has made judicial appointments based significantly on the judges' sharing of his faith. The most obvious of these was his failed attempt to appoint Harriet Meiers as a supreme court justice. Rather than discussing her judicial qualifications, many of her supporters touted her piousness, as though that should be relevant.

His faith-based initiative, so important to him that he proposed it just one week after his inauguration, has gradually and quietly been expanded, putting ever more public money into “faith-based” programs.

On the surface, I like to think, in fact, that we should not deny public funds to an organization that's doing a great deal of good for many people, just because it happens to be associated with a church. In practice, though, there are a few problems with that idea:

  1. Many — perhaps most — of the programs supported by the faith-based initiative are not just associated with religious organizations, but are actively promoting their religion. Not surprisingly, the vast majority are Christian (though the administration has made an effort (and see point 2) to include Jewish and Muslim organizations too).
  2. One way in which the initiative has been expanded is by having it actively seek out faith-based programs. There's a huge difference between saying that a good program can get funds despite religious connections... and actually looking for religiously connected programs to fund.
  3. There's the “give them an inch and they'll take a mile” principle. In an otherwised balanced world, this wouldn't be a problem. In the polarized, Bush-poisoned world, working with an administration that will not adapt and compromise, it's dangerous not to take a hard line view.

What that last point highlights is that of all the damage George Bush has done to our country, perhaps the worst is the intractable polarization, which prevents us from working together for the good of all. That polarization worked in his favour when he controlled Congress; it's unclear what effect it will have over the next two years, with the executive and legislative branches at odds, and with a tight balance in the Senate.

We need reality-based government back. Whether it be “strange women lying in ponds”, or George Carlin's “invisible man living in the sky”,[2] it's no basis for a system of government.

[1] From the official White House web site:

It is fitting that we have a National Prayer Breakfast. It is the right thing to do, because this is a nation of prayer.

[2] See a video of Carlin's routine on YouTube. Warning: bad language, not safe for work... and he intends to offend the religious. Don't watch it if you don't like seeing religion mocked.


scouter573 said...

I think of your point number three (give him an inch and he'll take a mile) every time I hear the word "bipartisan" from his lips. My gut response to such calls for bipartisanship is unprintable, but ends in the single syllable "no". I want my country back and I want my freedom back.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Trackbacks aren't working, but I wanted you to know this post has been chosen for the Carnival of the Liberals - Thanks!