Thursday, February 2, 2006

St. Jack

Here’s a man who deserves to be heard by people who probably won’t listen to him — much to their peril, I hope.

Jack Danforth wishes the Republican right would step down from its pulpit. Instead, he sees a constant flow of religion into national politics. And not just any religion, either, but the us-versus-them, my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God, velvet-fist variety of Christian evangelism.

As a mainline Episcopal priest, retired U.S. senator and diplomat, Danforth worships a humbler God and considers the right’s certainty a sin. Legislating against gay marriage, for instance? “It’s just cussedness.” As he sees it, many Republican leaders have lost their bearings and, if they don’t change, will lose their grip on power. Not to mention make the United States a meaner place.

Danforth is no squalling liberal. He is a lifelong Republican. And his own political history shows he is no milquetoast.

A man of God and the GOP, he is speaking out for moderation — in religion, politics, science and government. The lanky figure once dubbed “St. Jack,” not always warmly, for the perch he seemed to occupy on Washington’s moral high ground, expects people will sour on the assertive brand of Christianity so closely branded Republican.

“I’m counting on nausea,” he says.


Richard Land gets a big laugh out of that.

The combative voice of the Southern Baptist Convention and confidant of White House political guru Karl Rove has little use for Danforth, however grand his religious and political pedigrees. He describes the former senator as “what was wrong with the Republican Party and why they were a minority party.”

“Votes reflect moral values. The struggle for hearts and minds gets reflected in the ballot box,” Land says, setting up the twist of the knife. “It just sounds to me like Danforth’s sore that he lost the argument with a majority of the American people.”

Mr. Land is wrong; the Republicans weren’t a minority party in 1976 because of the likes of Jack Danforth; it was because of the likes of Richard Nixon and his imperial notions of the unitary executive. If the Religious Reich wishes to take credit for the resurgence of the Republicans in the House and the Senate — and they are not humble in doing so — they will exact a price for their service, and the men and women of the Republican party who follow more in the footsteps of Jack Danforth than Sam Brownback will be pushed out. It’s why a lot of good people — including members of my own family — have become disgusted with the Republican party and are distressed to see it being turned over to a bunch of ignorant Jesus-shouters who are one step away from wearing brown shirts and armbands and parading their hatred and holier-than-thou platitudes in hypnotic goose-stepping rhythm down Biscayne Boulevard.

I have to admit that there’s a part of me that is glad to see that the Republicans have latched themselves onto a bunch of extremists who only appeal to the True Believers and frighten off the moderates; it’s not a whole lot different than what happened to the Democrats and the hard-core anti-war lefties in the early 1970’s, and you can still see the repercussions to this day. If the Republicans continue their march over the cliff with the Religious Reich it could cause them a lot of damage for the next couple of election cycles, and I wouldn’t really mind that on a visceral level. Nothing would make me happier than to see the Religious Reich and their overt appeals to bigotry die a slow, painful and ignominious death on the rack of public opinion to the point where they’re as welcome in the public discourse as Michael Jackson at a day-care center and take a lot of Republicans with them in the process. But we’ve also witnessed what happens when parties are marginalized in terms of acutally getting things done in this country. It becomes not a discussion of ideas but who can beat the other guy to a bloody pulp and crow about it on talk-radio. I don’t think that’s what the Founding Fathers had in mind.