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October 24, 2004 - Everyone piles on as we move toward civil war, maybe ...

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Yes, as noted here, more and more web logs and commentary sites are now proclaiming to be a “Proud Members of the Reality-Based Community” – as the lines are more carefully drawn between those who want to deal with facts and actual events, and those of faith who think such things don’t matter as long as you believe, truly and deeply, in what you want to happen.  Is this the great divide in America?  That idea is snowballing.

Now we have this in the British press.

Faith against reason
The US election has exposed a growing conflict between two world views. Can they co-exist in one country?
Jonathan Freedland in New Jersey, The Guardian (UK), Wednesday October 20, 2004

Freeland, after a long introduction detailing a Bush rally in New Jersey – and contracting it to an Edwards rally in Pennsylvania – comes to these conclusions (my emphases) -


… America's centre of gravity has moved rightward, creating a set of shibboleths that cannot be challenged. If liberals established a few forbidden zones in the last 20 years under the rubric of so-called political correctness - making it off-limits to demean women, gays and ethnic minorities - then the right has now erected some barriers of its own.

First among these taboos is the military. No politician can utter a word that seems to question the armed services: so Kerry does not mention the Abu Ghraib scandal. Next is 9/11, which has been all but sanctified in American discourse. Because of that event, the US has re-imagined itself as a victim nation: witness the yellow-ribbon bumperstickers, usually bearing the slogan "Support America". (Ribbons were previously reserved for the suffering: red for Aids, pink for breast cancer.)

As a result, any action taken in the name of 9/11 cannot be questioned. Oppose the Patriot Act, with its restrictions on civil liberties, and you are a friend of the terrorists - and, if you are a Democratic congressional candidate, Republicans will air TV ads against you placing your face alongside that of Osama bin Laden.

Show concern for international opinion, and you are some kind of traitor. Kerry spoke French to a Haitian audience in Florida on Monday, the first time he had done so in public for many months: even to appear to have links with the outside world is a negative in today's politics, which has become all about America first.

All this is partly caused by, and certainly reinforces, that gut feeling of certainty that animates today's American right. Bill Clinton used to joke that when Democrats are in the White House, they think they are renting it. Republicans believe they own the place.


And Freedland then spends some time discussing how the Republicans fundamentally did not accept the legitimacy of a Democratic president in the Clinton years – as with the impeachment for his private sexual misconduct.

But now he says there is a new edge.  This is more than partisanship.  This is a question of and odd sort of religious faith – an odd blend of the idea Bush was chosen by God at this moment, or at least he’s doing God’s work, and just as God can make no mistakes, by definition, neither can George Bush, as he is the chosen one.

Some things we have done - and this is we, as Bush is our nominal leader representing us all - may seem really dumb, or at least counterproductive.  We have lost the respect of most of the world who see us a blustering bullies, invaded and occupied a country based on mistaken information about the threat that nation posed and its involvement with an attack on us.  We have stirred up an ever-growing army of angry fanatics and made that sad business even worse.  And somewhere in there we drove the economy into massive debt and paralyzed social programs for those in need, while rewarding those who decimate the environment, while at the same time rewarding the living rich and creatiing massive repayment burdens on generations to come, while beggaring the middle and lower classes, while increasingly limiting any chance of reasonable employment for millions.  Some might call this all evil.

But so what?  If Bush was a reader you might imagine him quoting Alexander Pope - "All nature is but art, unknown to thee; All chance, direction, which thou canst not see; All discord, harmony not understood; All partial evil, universal good; And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite, One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right."

Is it?  That depends on your politics.  And on your faith that what we have done is right.

After citing Ron Suskind (see the New York Times Sunday magazine item Without a Doubt from October 17, 2004), as we all do, Freedland adds more.  He extends Suskind’s observations about the inside history of this White House and its reliance on blind faith and scorn for real facts, to its current outward application – the ongoing election campaign and its implications -


Bush is a subtle enough politician not to make his campaign an overt religious crusade. But he communicates, through nods and winks, to his evangelical base: they know the mission he is on. He uses their language, answering a question on abortion by referring to a "culture of life", one of their favoured phrases, or nodding to a 19th-century supreme court ruling often cited in their own literature.

This is a revolutionary shift for a country that was founded on the separation of church and state. If Bush wins on November 2, the chances are strong that the shift will accelerate, perhaps even towards permanence.

Thanks to mortality, three or four spaces are likely to open up in the next four years on the nine-person Supreme Court. The next president will get to pick whether those judges are liberals or conservatives.

In 2000, Bush said his favourite supreme court justices were the ultraconservatives, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. If he named four more in their image, giving them a majority on the court, then the face of modern America could be changed within a few years.

Such a bench would no longer deem abortion a constitutional right; it would allow individual states to ban it, which they would do, across swathes of the country. If past Scalia-Thomas decisions are any guide, laws on everything from clean air to access for the disabled, affirmative action for ethnic minorities to gay rights would all be struck down. (When the supreme court last year heard the case of a gay man arrested for having sex in his own home, Scalia and Thomas sided against the man and with the police.) Crucially, Thomas has argued that the Constitution's ban on established religion might not apply to the individual states.


Well, that’s cheery.

And the opposition can do little about it.


The campaign has hardly been fought on this ground. If anything, John Kerry has had to go along with the intrusion of religion into politics - insisting on his own Catholic credentials, telling audiences that he was once an altar boy. But the tension is there.

It has manifested itself in the issue of research using embryonic stem-cells. Kerry says it should continue, using new lines of cells if necessary; Bush wants no more lines to be created, no more of what he calls the destruction of life. Kerry says stem cell research might have found a cure for Ronald Reagan's Alzheimers or for Christopher Reeve's paralysis. Bush says the work will have to stop.


Yeah, we’re messing with God’s plan.

Freedland is there too when at the Edwards rally there was a sad message being blasted from the loudspeakers at the Bush folks making fun of the Democrats - "Don't be scared of science, guys. Please guys, we need science."

Why does that even need to be said?

Freedland suggests this -


… the clash under way now is about more than Bush v Kerry, right v left. It seems to be an emerging clash of tradition against modernity, faith against reason. The true believers pitted against the "reality-based community".

That leaves two questions, one for the future, one for November 2. For the future: how long can these two competing world views, so far apart from each other and so sharply divided, co-exist in the same country? For November 2: which of these two camps is going to be absolutely determined to win?


Both questions are important, but the first is most troubling. It implies a low level civil war, or a real one.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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