. . . Monday November 8, 2004

Reducing the American Divide to Gary Hart

Gary Hart offered up his take on faith and governance in a recent NYT editorial:

There is also the disturbing tendency to insert theocratic principles into the vision of America’s role in the world. There is evil in the world. Nowhere in our Constitution or founding documents is there support for the proposition that the United States was given a special dispensation to eliminate it. Surely Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator. But there are quite a few of those still around and no one is advocating eliminating them. Neither Washington, Adams, Madison nor Jefferson saw America as the world’s avenging angel. Any notion of going abroad seeking demons to destroy concerned them above all else. Mr. Bush’s venture into crusaderism frightened not only Muslims, it also frightened a very large number of Americans with a sense of their own history.

The religions of Abraham all teach a sense of personal and collective humility. It was a note briefly struck very early by Mr. Bush and largely abandoned thereafter. It would be well for those in the second Bush term to ponder that attribute. Whether Bush supporters care or not, people around the world now see America as arrogant, self-righteous and superior. These are not qualities of any traditional faith I am aware of.

To most readers of this blog, those sentiments make perfect sense. But we need to remember that the faith debate is much like all other parts of the broader political debate. It’s about messaging and impressions.

That’s what all of these issues are about. How else could we have just completed an election cycle in which two guys like Bush and Cheney positioned themselves as being tougher than a guy like John Kerry. This is a level of group fantasy found only in politics and high budget porn.

Only in politics could hunting for ducks make one tougher than fighting in a war.

In some ways, the great faith debate in this country (which is only loosely connected to how religious one is in one’s private life) can be reduced to the issue of Gary Hart himself.

On one side of the debate, people see an incredibly smart, talented guy who happened to make a really stupid mistake in his personal life (and because of its timing, his political life too). But that personal mistake has been washed away by Hart’s incredible foresight when it comes to the main issue of the day; terrorism. Hart wrote a very important (and largely ignored) report on terrorism (two years before 9-11) in which he and the the report’s other authors urgently warned the government to make changes to prevent what they saw as an inevitable and massive terror attack on U.S. soil. Think of it as the pre-9-11 Commission Report. Hart was scaring us before it was in vogue (and for all the right reasons).

But while one side of the faith debate sees an intellectual who happens have a lot of expertise regarding the most important issue of the day, the other side sees a liberal newspaper printing the tarred takes of that guy who was on the boat with Donna Rice.

Concentration is important!