Freak out II: Invoking the Founders

Like Garry Wills, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman expresses concern that George W. Bush and "Christian fundamentalists" (those increasingly inseparable and undefined words) are ultimately opposed to the Founding Fathers:

But what troubled me yesterday was my feeling that this election was tipped because of an outpouring of support for George Bush by people who don't just favor different policies than I do -- they favor a whole different kind of America. We don't just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is.

Is it a country that does not intrude into people's sexual preferences and the marriage unions they want to make? Is it a country that allows a woman to have control over her body? Is it a country where the line between church and state bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers should be inviolate? Is it a country where religion doesn't trump science? And, most important, is it a country whose president mobilizes its deep moral energies to unite us -- instead of dividing us from one another and from the world

Such a neat trick, framing your questions in a way that forces others to respond with a Scroogelike "No" or to explain how their view has been misrepresented. The same style of rhetorical questions can express the views of Christians who are cultural conservatives:

Is it a country that preserves its historic definition of marriage, just as it did in rejecting polygamy? Is it a country that protects human life? Is it a country that cherishes religious freedom, including free-speech rights? Is it a country that recognizes the importance of both religion and science?

Friedman makes a humorous point about our current cultural divisions:

This was not an election. This was station identification. I'd bet anything that if the election ballots hadn't had the names Bush and Kerry on them but simply asked instead, "Do you watch Fox TV or read The New York Times?" the Electoral College would have broken the exact same way.

If it's any comfort, it's actually possible for a Christian to be conservative, vote for Bush and prefer MSNBC and The Atlantic to Fox News Channel and The New York Times.

Friedman makes his strongest point, I think, in this paragraph:

My problem with the Christian fundamentalists supporting Mr. Bush is not their spiritual energy or the fact that I am of a different faith. It is the way in which he and they have used that religious energy to promote divisions and intolerance at home and abroad. I respect that moral energy, but wish that Democrats could find a way to tap it for different ends.

I think Friedman misconstrues conservative Christians if he believes their goal is to "promote divisions and intolerance." But I agree with his wish that Democrats would find a way to tap spiritual and moral energy for their ends (Jim Wallis and Sojourners did their part to help the Democrats this year, but to little avail). That would make for a more competitive campaign, and rewarding discussion, in the next presidential campaign.

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