So, maybe you’re a Republican — but you’re a moderate one. You voted for Bush because your moderate Republican heart swoons at his “empowerment of individuals at home and his commitment to a proactive strategy in defense of a democratic peace abroad,” as Yale College Republicans president and self-styled conservative Yale pundit Al Jiwa recently wrote, in language that would make the RNC communications director proud. But of course, you’re a moderate. When you pulled the lever on Nov. 2, you weren’t voting for abstinence only, against abortion and “focus on the family” reactionary Christian crazies.
If you are indeed a Yale Republican, odds are the above description more or less applies to you. A small but perhaps growing community of Bush-backers on this campus, and throughout the Ivy League, seems to believe it can neatly divorce President Bush from the social conservatives who so enthusiastically endorse him. “Never mind the federal marriage amendment and the unending biblical allusions,” these moderates say. “That’s all just white noise that liberals like to whine about. The Iraqi free election, in which millions of liberated Iraqis risked their lives to exercise their right to vote, is the true legacy of the first Bush term.”
I must admit that I, like so many other liberals, felt a pang of intense national pride, mingled with partisan self-doubt, as the images of Iraqis proudly showing off their blue ink-stained fingers flooded the TV screens last week. And the accomplishment that moment represented — for Bush, for America and for the entire Middle East — is not to be taken lightly. However, even in an area as seemingly unrelated to the right-wing Christian agenda as our struggle in Iraq, Bush the liberator cannot be distinguished from Bush the evangelical toady. Still basking in the glow of what its leaders (wrongly) perceive as a ringing endorsement from the masses, the Christian Right is stronger today than ever before, and its strength is undermining not only mainstream America but also critical U.S. foreign policy.
Exhibit A: the new Iraqi constitution. The Bush administration has labored for the last two years to create a non-fundamentalist government in Baghdad, refusing to codify Islamic doctrine in the interim law under which Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has been governing. Having received its own ringing electoral mandate, however, Iraq’s religious Shiite political parties can hardly wait to have at the new constitution. Last Saturday, The New York Times reported that the Islamic clerics are demanding that “at the very least … the constitution should ensure that legal measures overseeing personal matters like marriage, divorce and family inheritance fall under Shariah, or Koranic law,” with “more conservative leaders insisting that Shariah be the foundation for all legislation.”
Hmmm, sounds familiar. Who else has recently tried to regulate marriage through a fundamentalist religious rewriting of the national constitution?
As Jon Stewart would say: “awkward.” How can the United States possibly oppose this move away from a secular constitution in Iraq when our president is so enthusiastically trying to inject the Old Testament into ours? Indeed, in his State of the Union last week, Bush loudly reaffirmed his commitment to passing the marriage amendment, devoting two paragraphs to that singularly idiotic proposal immediately following the section on Social Security reform, the centerpiece of his speech. So long as our commander in chief insists on actually changing the Constitution to exclude a group of citizens from enjoying a fundamental right that every straight 16-year-old girl in this country takes for granted, we cannot chide Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or any other nation for religious discrimination. That would be like Michael Jackson speaking at a rally against child molestation.
Or consider another glaring example of Republican hypocrisy. For decades, the United States has tried to condemn state censorship whenever and wherever possible — from Russia to China to the Arab world, American diplomats have protested when journalists and writers are jailed or harshly punished for what they write, say or broadcast. This is true even when, as in China, state censorship assumes the seemingly benign guise of rarity. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have recognized that even occasional governmental interference leads to self-censorship, and we have always stood tall against such outrages in the past.
I was struck, therefore, when Ford Motor Company announced last week that it would withdraw its Super Bowl ad for the Lincoln Pickup under pressure from a Catholic group that found the spot offensive. I would find the incident unremarkable, except that it comes on the heels of dozens of other similar ones. Ever since a few highly publicized televised moments that resulted in heavy FCC fines, broadcasters have been far more cautious about what they air lest it also be labeled “indecent.” The driving force behind this movement toward more aggressive censorship is, once again, our friends in the Christian Right, who were apparently so offended by Janet Jackson’s exposed bosom last year that they mobilized to prevent any similar calamities in the future.
Of course, Republican-backed censorship is nowhere near as bad as the Chinese variety. But again, by injecting their moral outrage into our political process, uptight right-wingers like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and their ilk are undermining our credibility abroad. Just as Condoleezza Rice ought not to be surprised when Islamic leaders laugh in her face when she talks about religious fundamentalism, she should similarly be prepared for Chinese President Hu Jintao to dismiss her concerns about Chinese censorship as meaningless and hypocritical public posturing. So long as Bush continues to do the bidding of social conservatives, much of his high-minded rhetoric about U.S. international objectives will continue to ring hollow.
Roger Low is a sophomore in Branford College. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.