This weekend, a New York newspaper devoted its “Beliefs” column to examining whether attempts this year to misrepresent Barack Obama as a Muslim were as bigoted as similar attempts eighty years ago to discredit Al Smith for being a Catholic. It’s gratifying to find one of our most prestigious news outlets worrying – albeit belatedly – about anti-Catholicism in America’s past. It would be even more gratifying if that paper took notice of anti-Catholicism on its own pages in the present. But such self-examination is quite unlikely. And perhaps someone might be forgiven for thinking that exorcizing religious bias was not really the point. Rather, it seems to have been yet another way of ignoring current controversies surrounding the Democratic candidate while focusing attention against even the most distant and unlikely threats to his victory.
That paper ran a story, front page, the same day, which quoted a Democratic enthusiast who worries despite the polls: “Look, I have this sense of impending doom; we’ve had a couple of elections stolen already. . .” The senior editors must have been vacationing in the Hamptons this weekend because they conducted a meticulous review of the 2000 Florida results some years ago and concluded that, unfortunately by their lights, George W. Bush had indeed won by a few hundred votes. Fraud in the 2004 count is a long stretch by comparison. And besides, what Obama-endorsing paper ought to be bringing up voter fraud anyway at this point, when ACORN has registered the whole Dallas Cowboys offensive line in Nevada, individual homeless persons dozens of times, and Mickey Mouse in various jurisdictions? Several counties in Mississippi report that they somehow find themselves with more registered voters than residents.
And Chicago . . . well the less said the better.
As I say, the senior editors must have been out of town.
A decent person cannot help looking on all this with a mixture of anger and sorrow over the further corruption of our news sources and, therefore, our democracy. Not only do we have poor choices this election year, we’ve had a poor chance even of fairly seeing what they are. Anyone who loves the United States and values its mostly successful experiment in republican self-government is apprehensive about our challenges, from worldwide jihadist terror to global economic meltdown – challenges that should have made it a first priority for our media to tell the whole truth, ruat caelum. Instead, they have been looking the other way while, for example, the United States has actually now approached victory and withdrawal from Iraq. And they have been inclined to hysteria rather than calm over the financial crisis, in the correct belief that it discredits the party in power.
At least there will be relief from this too long and too infuriating campaign on Tuesday. Barring some unforeseen event, we will elect a young, inexperienced, but highly charismatic figure. The attraction to that charisma, in the absence of real media scrutiny and beyond all reasonable assessment of his claims, is perhaps the most worrying thing of all. It’s already become a cliché that the line between politics and entertainment has been blurred. A candidate for high office appearing on shows like The View or Saturday Night Live, or submitting to questioning by Katie Couric would have just a short while ago been regarded as infra dig (look it up, it explains a lot). But blurring the line between politics and political messianism is even more troubling.
You may have noticed during this campaign, there is literally nothing in human life now that does not seem to fall within the federal purview. Our likely president, for example, said in July 2007 at a Planned Parenthood conference: "[W]e need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that’s the criteria [sic] by which I’m going to be selecting my judges." A moment’s thought shows that this is far more radical than it first seems. And only alternative media have noticed that he has also chided the Supreme Court for not addressing wealth redistribution. This is a man who studied law at Harvard and taught law at the University of Chicago, and yet seems to have a very weak sense of constitutional limits on federal powers – or why they’re important.
Republicans have also been pandering, to a smaller but large enough swath of the population. What both parties have been doing used to be known as demagoguery and was recognized by the Founding Fathers as one of the reasons that democracy historically has been a very unstable form of government. Once popular passions are loosed from the bounds of law, the people usually demand everything from their rulers. This runs counter to the deepest sources of our civilization. Aristotle once remarked that if man were the highest being, politics would be the highest science. But that wise pagan pointed to heavenly beings and other things above us as normative, i.e., politics is limited and subordinate to higher truths.
When we used to read the Bible more and believed what it said, we knew not to put our trust in princes, or any political power. Unified Republican control of the White House, the Senate, and the Congress was no exception to the rule. Sad to say, at a time when America needs very close scrutiny of those who will exercise power, we are about to commend ourselves to an untested figure given a free pass by the media. No one should be surprised when we discover that, even in the modern world, the good book is still full of wisdom.
Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His latest book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West.
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