Distal Muse Archives

From Out Of Their Mouths...

by Mark W. Tiedemann

     What a pair.  If anything should give us pause about the nature and direction of this administration and the times we inhabit, it is what comes from the mouths of those who serve.
     Appeals Court nominee Janice Rogers Brown and General Boykin.
     I think you can tell a lot about an administration by looking at its nominees.  Now, to be fair, every president has wanted to stack the decks in favor of his point of view.  Liberal, conservative, moderate.  If you want to argue the point, it has to be over the nature of the stacking, not the stacking itself, which requires taking a position--something a lot of liberals have a hard time doing, much to our detriment.  Conservatives and the far right have no such problem.
     Another difference between right wing and liberal--I don't actually consider this administration conservative, they are right wing, which is a bit different; more on that later--is the ideological intractability of the right.  The average liberal might have a bias--does have a bias--but tends (and please remember I qualified this by saying "tends") to bend with circumstance.  They admit to being willing to change their minds, most of the time.  A conservative, though coming from a different bias, often is willing to do the same.
     But a right wing ideologue is about as bad as a Minuteman from the 1960s.
     Even so, the trouble is not so much in the intractability of such people but in their sheer ignorance.
     Forgive me, but come on.  Janice Rogers Brown sits on the California supreme court.  She has written opinions on affirmative action cases.  She doesn't like affirmative action.  As a successful person in her own right, she perhaps has justification to believe in her case that it would--or was--a bad thing.  However, having made legal pronouncements, from her position on a high court bench, one should expect that she understands from whence she speaks.  But when Senator Arlen Spector asked her if she perhaps thought that maybe the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment of the United States constitution might trump state law in such cases, she came out and actually said she wasn't up on that viewpoint.  What did she actually say?  "This is not an issue that I have looked at in detail."
     It's not her conservatism that ought to be questioned, but her qualifications--which are dubious.  In California, when Pete Wilson appointed her to the state, the California Judicial Evaluating Commission found her unqualified--so did the California bar.  Even the congressional black caucus doesn't support her, siding with the ABA in giving her one of the lowest ratings of a sitting jurist.
     As for General "my god is bigger than your god" Boykin, I believe he made the best case for the true bent of this administration.  He declared that we can't win this war without Jesus.  The administration is trying to distance itself from these statements, realizing, belatedly, that such rhetoric is counterproductive.  But when Bush declared war on al-Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11 he called it a Crusade.  I am not one of those who ascribe to the theory that W. is stupid.  He knew perfectly well how that would sound to the Muslim world.  Rhetoric of intimidation.  His father played similar, albeit more subtle, word games during the first Gulf War.  W. has boasted about his religious convictions and now that one of his generals has made as strong a statement as could be made in this regard, he's backpedaling.
     My problem, as I say, is not their conservatism--it is their ignorance.  It is their willingness to ignore information, fact, truth in the name of their ideology.  It is their clear cut unwillingness to change their minds in the face of failure or evidence that they are wrong.
     Granted, I am not religious.  In fact, I'm an atheist.  Let's get that right out in the open at once.  I won't hide behind the waffling of agnosticism.  I don't believe in a supreme being.
     I don't care if anyone else does.  That's one of the cool things about this country.  Be as religious--or irreligious--as you want.  And let me choose my viewpoint.  It's called freedom.
     But keep religion out of my government.  Religious is not a value-neutral thing, which can be applied with equanimity and reason.  Religion makes demands of its adherents, oftentimes putting them at odds with their society, and occasionally with their governments and laws.
     I didn't vote for Jesus, so when my president says he demurs to the Lord, I get annoyed.  We can't have Yahweh attend a press conference.  He doesn't testify before congress.  In the end, you can't impeach him.
     Therefore, I don't want him in charge--even metaphorically.
     Most people seem to be able to grasp this.  They can be Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist and understand that this is for the inside, the walls of the skull or the precincts of the soul.
     Not for the town hall meeting.
     Boykin doesn't get this.  I think it's a question of intelligence.  Not that he lacks it--you don't get to be a general under any circumstances if you're stupid--but he doesn't seem to rely on it very much.  An underutilized attribute.
     Same goes for Ms. Brown.  She's a lawyer and now a justice, for goodness sake, it should be incumbent upon her as a responsible citizen in such a position to know the law.  It's not like the Equal Protection Clause is obscure!
     But she seems to be part of a pattern in this administration of picking people who are in many ways not qualified, not in the eyes of their peers at least.  The current nominee for the Appeals Court seat of Maryland is the same way, a Virginian with low marks from his peers.
     Maybe Bush thinks they'll be too dumb to change their ideology once on the bench.
     See, the Supreme Court--which is the target for a lot of these judicial nominees--has a curious history of nominees who seem one way before donning the robes, only to then change radically once seated.  As if once the shackles of political threat are removed, they vote their conscience, follow their own council.  It has happened time and again that a president has put someone on the bench thinking he was stacking the court only to discover that the nominee had a mind of his own.  Like King Henry and Beckett.  Seems they never learn.
     Only now, with this tack, they're trying something new.
     When Bush Sr. nominated Clarence Thomas he declared that Thomas was the best qualified nominee he could find.  Firstly, in a country as rich in human resource as ours, "best" is hyperbole, pure and simple.  Look a little harder and you can find scores of equally "best" nominees for any position you want.  Secondly, it was patently disingenuous.  Thomas had been moved around by Bush and groomed for the nomination.  Bush had made his choice--one of them--long before Thurgood Marshal stepped down.  He had his dice ready.  And he nearly lost.  Thomas is marginally qualified.  He has not been a replacement for Marshal in any sense beyond race and gender.
     Bush Jr. has taken the process another step.  Down.  On the off chance that a more qualified nominee might get on the bench and find that further review changes his or her opinions, and therefore causing a break with the administration's intent, let's put forth people unlikely to be sharp enough to do that.
     I'm speculating.  But Bush keeps telling us these are the best he can find, despite all the evidence of record to the contrary.
     Back to my point, which is that if we listen closely to what these people say, we hear the true voice of the administration.  Bush and Company have to be careful themselves because there are a lot of Republicans who can't stand this self-righteous mingling of moral certitude and political expediency.  But the far right has their administration in power now and the colors are showing.
     Senator DeLay claims to want to promote a Biblical world view.  This is the Senate Majority Leader.  This isn't a minor cog in a state legislature from Yaknapandaloo County.
     A Biblical world view.  What would that be?
     Well, for one thing, they don't want evolution taught in schools.  During the heady days after 9/11 any teacher trying to do justice to the history of Islam was labeled a traitor.  Certain books shouldn't be allowed in school libraries.
     But on closer inspection, I don't actually think these folks know what they mean by a Biblical world view.  I think they believe in some Norman Rockwell Sunday School version of the Bible, smiling Americans sitting around the table on Sunday, primly dressed, praying, and exuding pure good will toward each other, quaint samplers on the walls with cozy saying like "Love Thy Neighbor" and such like.  I don't think they really know what a "Biblical World View" is.  Not really.  It's that ignorance thing again.
     Slavery is justified in the Bible.  Even in the New Testament, Paul extolled slaves not to embarrass their masters and be good servants.
     Killing witches would be back in style.
     Virginity would have a dollar-value, to be paid to the parents if you deflower their daughter.  Daughters, by the way, couldn't choose their own husbands.  Dowrys would be back in vogue.
     Women would have to leave town during their menstrual cycles, lest they contaminate the community with their "uncleanness."
     We'd all have to give up watching cool shows about dinosaurs, of course, since the age of the world will return to about six thousand years and we know there weren't any dinosaurs six thousand years ago.  No more shows on quantum mechanics, either (Yahweh doesn't play dice, after all) and we certainly couldn't have any programs about other religions.
     But the thorniest aspect would be the elimination of interest.  That's forbidden, charging interest on loans.  Loans would probably go out, too, for that matter--what would be the point anyway?  The economy would come to a screeching halt, desolation and penury would rise like a tsunami, and when the transition ended the only people with money would be--
     Well, you get the idea.
     Kings would be back in style then.
     Check out Leviticus next time you're thinking about these things.  That's where all the "biblical world views" are listed, in stunning detail.  You'll get an idea what kind of a world we'd inhabit.
     Point being, I doubt these folks have really thought it through.  If they have and they still desire that kind of a life, we had better all be afraid.
     But like most ideologues, what they really want is to custom trim the world to their liking.
     I guarantee you, it surely won't be to everyone's liking.  Not by a long shot.
     But it won't be a surprise.  They pretty well tell us exactly what they want to do, if not themselves, through their underlings.  All you have to do is pay attention.  Which they're hoping you won't.  See, they think lack of intelligence is the norm.  Which may be one reason they think these nominees of theirs are so magnificently qualified.  They are, then, representative.
     Oh, I said I'd explain what I mean when I claim the right wing is not the same as conservative.  But then, if you haven't figured that out by now, then I have this appeals court nominee who is perfect for you.

copyright © 2004 by Mark W. Tiedemann