Wednesday, January 03, 2007

BLACK AND WHITE TURN IT ON, FACE THE NEW RELIGION. At the Weekly Standard Joseph Epstein's talking about American Presidents who are "believers" and American Presidents who are "unbelievers." All our Presidents have professed some sort of faith, of course, and Epstein himself -- overcome, perhaps, by a spasm of sequential thought, or a glance at his word count -- declares that "I do not know American history well enough to run through all 43 of our presidents, designating the believers and nonbelievers among them." But he recovers quickly, and says he can hit the target from Truman onwards:
Truman wasn't supposed to possess anything resembling belief; when he came to the presidency at the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he was considered a politician of the ward-heeling type, beholden to the Pendergast machine in Kansas City. Yet he was called on to make some of the most significant decisions of the 20th century--including that of dropping atomic bombs on Japan--and it is impossible to imagine him making that decision without deep belief in its rightness. As it happens, the decision was one that every American serviceman, even ardent liberals among them, viewed as the correct decision.
You can already see the pattern emerging here: where biography, or any empirical evidence, fails to show True Faith, it may yet be inferred from positive results -- if it's good, it's the product of belief!

But the longer this goes on, the sloppier things get:

"Dwight David Eisenhower had no strong beliefs that I can make out... Eisenhower believed in order... But his belief was cool... To be a true believer, passion is required." (Translation: He really dicked us with that military-industrial complex thing, and integration. No True Faith for you!)

"John F. Kennedy was a non believer... Had he lived longer, Kennedy might have come to belief..." (Translation: I want to say he burns in Hell but we have to throw aged Catholics a few bones or the Republicans are fucked in 2008.)

"The great irony of Johnson's career is that the man everyone considered the operator par excellence until he ascended to the presidency was brought down by his own genuine beliefs." (Translation: Thank God they can't blame him on us!)

"Difficult to imagine Richard Nixon actually believed in anything." (Translation: They can't even blame us on us!)

"Gerald Ford was on the scene too briefly to establish any strong beliefs, let alone act upon them. Yet, beliefless though he may have been, he seems to have been the right man at the right time..."

Jeeeesus fucking Christ, who needs it? In the end, belief is shown to be of ambiguous utility -- "If Churchill was a believer, so was Hitler." Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad; sometimes it matters and sometimes it doesn't.

Why then does this miserable, seemingly useless essay even exist?

Because belief is a big deal for conservatives -- it's one of their distinguishing market equities, a point of difference that has helped win elections for their candidates. But now that conservatives are in a bit of a trough, and liberal Democrats are starting to claim the benefits of religiosity for themselves, they have to work a little harder to hold onto that equity.

These guys can't just yell "Jesus" anymore and expect rubes to come running. But they can get one of their culture-critic types to chew over the issue of belief intellectual-like, dropping along the way slurs against people they don't like. It's the total cynic's version of "taking the high ground" -- like Jerry Falwell retreating from his Moral Majority lightning-rod to concentrate on running Liberty University, or Albert Brooks aping the psychologist in Real Life ("Oh, you think you're the only one who can write things down? Well, I can write things down too! Here, look -- 'I... never... said... that'").

It's a way of looking thoughtful without taking the trouble to think.

I can see why they'd want to rebrand along more upscale lines, but this may be a bad fit, like selling Ovaltine as an energy drink. Still, the American People have bought worse crap.

No comments:

Post a Comment