Religious Right explains GOP disfunction

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Jeremiah, as depicted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

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Jeremiah, as depicted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Jeremiah, as depicted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Jeremiah, as depicted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

In his latest column, David Brooks berates the Republican Party for betraying true conservatism — which, he says, “stands for intellectual humility, a belief in steady, incremental change, a preference for reform rather than revolution, a respect for hierarchy, precedence, balance and order, and a tone of voice that is prudent, measured and responsible.”

Brooks, the closest thing in American punditry to an old-time British Tory, wags his finger not at one actor or action but at “a thousand small betrayals” beginning some 30 years ago. Since then, “the Republican rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic and imbalanced.” GOP politicians have become “addicted to a crisis mentality,” with civilization always on the brink of collapse and every setback tantamount to the ruination of the Republic.

Where does this style come from? In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it comes from the Prophet Jeremiah, who was wont to bitterly lament contemporary mores and to predict the imminent collapse of society because Israelite rulers had broken their Covenant with the Lord. But there was always a chance that the evil decree could be averted by repentance and conversion.

As scholars beginning with Perry Miller have shown, Puritan ministers made the jeremiad a favorite rhetorical mode in the 17th century, and bequeathed it to American civilization generally. But at no time has it been so warmly and enthusiastically embraced as by the Religious Right — which, yes, bonded with the Republican Party some 30 years ago. And let’s just say that jeremiads don’t make for political compromise or for functional governance in a system of checks and balances like ours.

Over the past generation, the jeremiads of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have become the stock in trade of all Republican politicians, not just the House Freedom Caucus. They bitterly lament not only the “rulers” of the Democratic Party but also the Republicans who negotiate with them — the  John Boehners and Mitch McConnells and Paul Ryans who have thereby broken their Covenant with the Constitution.

A few months ago, columnist Brooks urged social conservatives to stop fighting a lost cause against same-sex marriage and take up the “more practical struggle is to repair a society rendered atomized, unforgiving and inhospitable.” Comes now Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, with a new book urging Christians not to attend a same-sex wedding of even their own child because it “signals moral approval” of the union.

A House Republican caucus willing to hold the nation hostage over funding for Planned Parenthood is a House Republican caucus following Mohler, not Brooks. If the GOP has betrayed true conservatism, the Religious Right can take a big share of the credit.

  • Mike Raymond

    Great article, but ‘dysfunction’ would have been a better way to spell the word in your article?

  • samuel johnston

    David Brooks is advocating conservatism, yet liberalism is a not so different understanding from a bygone age, where responsibility was tied to advocacy.
    The common ground for progressives, and the Christian right, is that neither is very interested in the results of their actions/positions on the body politic.

  • Bernardo

    The conservative House representatives simply mouth what their constituents believe. If they do not, they would not be re-elected to their $174,000 a year jobs with substantial benefits. Until these constituents learn to peruse critiques of the NT, things are not going to change.

  • The Republican Party is a church. The GOP has been a church since the advent of Saint Ronnie and has degenerated faster than Reagan’s brain. The Right is the evangelical version of Saudi Arabia, a rancid mixture of big money and false morality. Fundamentalist Christianity has done for America pretty much what it did for the Romans.
    https://www.scribd.com/doc/269575794/Christianity-s-Critics-The-Romans-Meet-Jesus-by-Robert-Conner

  • Larry

    Dear GOP: Washington Hates You Even More Than You Hate Us
    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/dear-gop-washington-hates-you-even-more-than-you-hate-us-20151015

    “D.C. residents would like Republicans to stop sending them their village 1diots”

    “Election after election, districts all over America send their village idiots to Congress to rule over us, to write our laws and to spend trillions of our dollars. Some of the people they elect aren’t qualified to spoon food into their own mouths, let alone serve in Congress.”

    “After breaking the government, they’ll go home to their constituents to join their complaints about how government just doesn’t work. It’s that dang Washington, D.C.! If only we could fix it!”

  • Larry

    Dear GOP: Washington Hates You Even More Than You Hate Us
    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/dear-gop-washington-hates-you-even-more-than-you-hate-us-20151015

    “D.C. residents would like Republicans to stop sending them their village 1diots”

    “Election after election, districts all over America send their village 1diots to Congress to rule over us, to write our laws and to spend trillions of our dollars. Some of the people they elect aren’t qualified to spoon food into their own mouths, let alone serve in Congress.”

    “After breaking the government, they’ll go home to their constituents to join their complaints about how government just doesn’t work. It’s that dang Washington, D.C.! If only we could fix it!”

  • Thanks, Mike. Yeah, it probably should be “dysfunction.”

  • Jack

    Reading Mark Silk’s article, you’d think the so-called Religious Right arose from nowhere, like some alien invasion. But as Silk well knows, nothing comes out of nowhere. For decades, fundamentalists and all too many evangelicals had nearly no involvement in politics. A large majority didn’t even vote.

    What changed everything was the rise of the radical left in the late 1960s, its hijacking of mainstream liberalism in the 1970s, and its long march through society beginning in the 70s.

    Essentially, it awoke a slumbering giant — tens of millions of culturally quiescent fundamentalists and evangelicals.

    And the proof is obvious: The Religious Right was far from the only outcome of the rise of the radical left. It also led during the same era to the rise of neo-conservatism on foreign policy and supply-siders on economic policy.

    Absent the road warriors of the extreme left, these movements would have been inconceivable.

  • Jack

    David Brooks is one of the most thoughtful columnists of our day, but he’s dead wrong on this. Like Silk, he leaves out historical context, the key to nearly everything.

    History makes clear that one can be cautiously conservative in one generation and a revolutionary in the next. It depends on what the times require.

    George Washington was a gentleman farmer and would’ve been perfectly content to remain that way. But by 1776, circumstances required him to become the revolutionary military leader of a freedom-and-independence movement against the mother country, essentially making him a radical traitor in the eyes of London.

    Did Washington radically change, or did the times so change that he was forced to respond accordingly?

    Put another way, conservatives defend the status quo when normalcy reigns, but when it’s utter lunacy or deadly foolishness that reigns, conservatism calls for the opposite.

  • Jack

    Leave it to the shameless propagandists of the radical left to equate fellow citizens in a democracy with murderous theocrats responsible for launching 9/11.

  • Jack

    Now if that’s not upside-down thinking from LarryLand, nothing is:

    The whole country has it wrong, and Washington somehow has it right?

    I don’t think so.

  • Jack

    Uh, Bernardo, $174,000 is not a particularly big salary, especially for those serving who are normally lawyers or doctors or entrepreneurs. The real money to be made is when these folks leave office and cash in on their connections.

  • Betty Clermont

    While it’s true that the first neoconservatives – Irving Kristol, Allan Bloom, Francis Fukuyama – wrote contra the “1960s left,” the Religious Right was an intentional construct of later neocons in the late 1970s to energize conservative Christians to become politically active and get out the vote. (See my book The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America.)

  • There’s always an historical explanation for something that exists, Jack. The Religious Right came on the scene nearly four decades ago. The question at hand is, in your terms: What do circumstances require of the present generation of Republican politicians? Brooks thinks they require cautious conservatism. Do you disagree?

  • Jack

    So in other words, Bernardo, making money is a sin?

    I hope you’ve taken a vow of poverty if you really believe that.

  • Jack

    A very good question, Mark. I would have to disagree with Brooks in the end because I don’t see the cultural changes pushed by the radical left as being moderate or liberal, but extreme. Ditto for the accompanying rhetoric. It was not the rhetoric of people interested in debate but in silencing and destroying its enemies.

    In the late 1960 and early 1970s, the liberal establishment made the tactical mistake of trying to engage the hard left and give into its demands, starting on campus. We all know how that turned out. We saw the loss of what the late Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called “the vital center.” While the rhetoric of the Religious Right can be just as bad, at least it is standing up.

  • Jack

    Betty, you make a good point about the link between the neoconservatives and the Religious Right — or at least the older generation of neocons. That was for a while the dominant alliance in politics, helping bring Reagan to power. Some of the bridge-builders between the two were people like Jack Kemp.

    What distinguished both from the tea-party folks of today is that both groups were content to leave the size and scope of government alone and even marshal its resources on behalf of its key causes. In the long run, that led to a backlash from small-government conservatives, leading to the tea party’s rise.

  • Jack

    Betty, I think it’s going too far to say the Religious Right was “an intentional construct of later neocons,” but it would be right to say that friendships were built between them that endure to this day. One thinks of the friendship between Gary Bauer and Elliot Abrams, for example, or Dennis Prager and any number of Religious Right folks.

    One place where you’ll find further evidence of such friendships is at the CUFI (Christians United for Israel) annual events, where you will find evangelical pastors and orthodox and conservative Jewish leaders chatting amiably and asking about each other’s families and the like.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Not exactly. The so-called radical left was a fizzle which beyond Berkeley and University of Wisconsin had a null effect. It was non-ideological scientist which separated sex from conception which vastly changed the world for the better. the religious right’s war isn’t with the left; it’s with the future.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Mark some say the religious right went into seclusion after the Scopes trial in 1925. That’s not exactly so. They fueled the Old Right’s fight against the New Deal. they fueled McCarthyism. By emphasizing the anti-religious nature of communism, they were part and parcel of McCarthyism. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were active segregationists in the 1960s. they discovered sex and it had legs and the rest is history.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Our right-wing “fellow citizens” have murdered more Americans since 9-11 than all Islamic terrorists have, so, if the shoe fits, wear it.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Despite their numerous shortcomings, the Saudis possess a sense of honor the religious right never has. In business, the Saudis are good dealmakers because they say what they mean and they mean what they say. They do not betray friends. The religious right, on the other hand, is all about deception and posturing. When faced with a Ted Haggard or a Jim Bakker in their midst, they throw the miscreant under the bus.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    That is indeed an aspect of Burkean conservatism (after Edmund Burke, said it be its founder in his “Reflections on the French Revolution”). However, the disagreement is when does utter lunacy or deadly foolishness reign? Where it reigns now is within conservatism. The assertions Obama is a Mooslem, he will take your guns away, etc.,, are indeed all both utter lunacy and deadly foolishness.