Insight. Antics.

The Good Book(s).

In Politics, Religion on September 24, 2010 at 8:08 am

I heard something fascinating yesterday that I had to share. I was listening to the DoubleX Gabfest on Slate, a regular discussion of current cultural, social, and political issues with a woman’s slant, and something jumped out at me. You may be wondering how I got away with listening to the DoubleX Gabfest in the first place. It was pretty tough. I had to keep my Y chromosome quiet and hidden behind my X for a half-hour so I didn’t blow my cover. Suffice it to say, I dabble to keep my media diet balanced with progressive proteins and conservative carbs. Independents serve as roughage.

As I was listening I found that a point they made, (really as a tangent), struck me as so apt that I essentially have to regurgitate it.

Like many this last week, they were discussing the rise of Christine O’Donnell in the Delaware Senate race and her brand of right wing politics in general. It began with Emily Bazelon, who is pretty much the big sister I never had, extrapolating from O’Donnell and other prominent Tea Party members’ general orientation towards the Constitution.

Bazelon began, “Underlying her statements about the Constitution and her emphasis on liberty is this kind of, I think, emerging, Tea Party doctrine, in which the Constitution becomes revered not simply because it’s our founding document and has values that we agree on, but because there is a direct line from it back to the Bible.” (In fact, some people really try to darken that line.)

Fellow co-founder of the site Hanna Rosin agreed: “They talk about it the way Evangelicals talk about the Bible, as this document in which every word has a literal meaning and every answer can be found. And also it can apply to anything that’s going on in the modern world. And that is, that’s really new.”

“Part of the virtue from the point of view of O’Donnell and the Tea Party from reading the Constitution this way is that you’re not actually really embracing the whole Constitution, certainly not as the Supreme Court has interpreted it for us over the centuries,” Bazelon exclaimed. “You’re really picking and choosing. And so, you both use the Bible to make the Constitution more revered and you also use it as the text through which you view the Constitution. Then, you pick out the parts you like and you dont like though that prism.”

Rosin put a capstone on the argument, saying “But that’s exactly what Evangelicals do with the Bible. I mean it’s not that they’re looking at every word, right? You conveniently  ignore the parts about divorce or about stoning adulterers and you hone in on the parts about homosexuality. I mean we all understand that Biblical literalism is not exactly literal. That, even within literalism, you are, y’know, choosing and y’know translating and bending things to sort of fit. The Bible doesn’t say anything about taxes, but you can certainly look in the Bible if you want to, and find statements that make it seem as if we should all cut our taxes.” (Honorable mention: Margaret Talbot of The New Yorker for partaking in the chat, too.)

This observation is just so intriguing and satisfying. It would account for the way this new movement speaks of the Constitution. Take that idea about cherry-picking the Bible and translate it to the Constitution: we have seen Tea Partiers stand up for their unassailable right to bear arms in the Second Amendment. Meanwhile, they have also advocated for stripping down the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees citizenship for all people born in the country, with the new anti-immigration buzzword “anchor baby.” The ideological inconsistency is nearly identical. The cherished text is only trotted out when it buttresses the argument. It is ignored when it doesn’t fit.

I should say, while these women are liberal, they are reasoned analyzers, who are able to dissociate their persuasions from the structural components that comprise a person’s success or a party’s tactics. Despite their politically spectral differences with an O’Donnell or a Palin, they have found areas to be intrigued by and to respect those whose views differ from their own. Even men! Speaking of which, I need to go put on a Yankees rerun or browse around for a bit. Smell ya later.

  1. Ross, you might enjoy the dialogue that Emily, Hanna, and Dahlia Lithwick are having on this topic in Slate:

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