Michael Gerson, the WaPo columnist who was President W.'s chief fiction writer, is acutely distressed to find that the new, religious, far right of the Republican Party -- the Tea Party -- is nothing more than the old, religious, far right of the Republican Party. He's distressed because the immense embarrassment of those evangelical crackpots of political yesteryear had largely been swept from the public arena by the rise of the fiscally obsessed -- again, the Tea Party. But alas, that rise was no ideological divergence; only a mutation. Or a ruse, if you will.
Gerson does his speechwriting best to obfuscate (Lordy lord, how that must take him back to his creative days in the Bush White House). He scoffs: "Now the heroes of the Tea Party movement, it turns out, are also closet theocrats." Then he scoffs some more, principally noting the fiery, ungodly, unquestionably biased findings of Newsweek's Michelle Goldberg and Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker (the mere mention of that publication should explain all for the True Believers, on both sides).
What Gerson neglects to reference, however, is the solid, social science research of David Campbell and Robert Putnam, published recently in the NY Times:
Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek "deeply religious" elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.
Gerson's final scoff is at secularists, those poor intellectuals who dare to deploy only their known intellects.
[S]ecularism shows a remarkable lack of self-consciousness. Like any ideology, this one has philosophic roots that are subject to argument. Yet secularists often assume their view is the definition of neutrality and thus deserves a privileged public place. The argument that religion is fundamentally illiberal thus provides an excuse to treat it illiberally.
We are first rather shocked to learn that secularism is an "ideology." But no matter, the shock doesn't last, because the label is little more than table-table humbug. We then learn that we not only "assume [our] view is the definition of neutrality," but that it "deserves a privileged public place." Now that, I confess, upsets me. It upsets because here I sit, the very model of neutrality, snug in a privileged place, and I don't even know what in hell Gerson is talking about. What a waste of privilege.
Finally we come to what really bugs Gerson: Because we -- the secular enemy -- dismiss ancient mythologies as guidebooks to good governance, we are snobs and cruel elitists and insufferable asses. In short, we're constitutional republicans, just as the U.S. Constitution advises.
Gerson himself concedes that "religion is fundamentally illiberal." Yet that we're glad to suffer and suffer silently as long as religion remains fundamentally private.
As for Gerson's charge that secularists treat religionists "illiberally," I would point him to law professor Paul Horwitz's 5 August op-ed. In effect what Gerson demands is a double standard, and, writes Horwitz, it "needs to end. If religion can’t be forbidden in our public debates, even for elected officials, neither should it be immune from public criticism."
And public criticism, I would add, gets rough. Just ask the secularists, who since the Age of McCarthy have been vilified and denounced by quaint religionists as godless, unAmerican garbage.