Friday, December 07, 2007

Most eloquent take-down of Romney I've seen

From Andrew Brown at the Guardian:

"Any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me," he said. "And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion - rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith."

But, while the speech tells us nothing whatever about Mormonism, it does show a lot about what he believes his audience wants to hear, and still more about the way that religions really function in politics. What he is really saying in all this is the one belief that Mormons share with all other successful American religions: that America is God's promised land, which is powerful because Someone up there loves it.

Mormonism is a kind of pop-art cartoon version of this belief. Where mainstream American Protestantism, following the British model, supposed that God had made American Protestants the new Israel in a metaphysical, though real sense, Mormons claimed that some Jews, and Jesus himself after his resurrection, had physically travelled to North America, and founded a civilisation there long before the Pilgrim Fathers arrived. Also, the Native Americans are the descendents of some of these Jews, who turned bad and were cursed with a dark skin for their wickedness. You can see why Governor Romney might not want to delve into the specifics of these divinely inspired truth...

Religious liberty thus becomes the defining feature of American culture in his speech. In fact, in common with most American nationalists, he uses "liberty" as entirely synonymous with American power. "No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America's sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world. America took nothing from that century's terrible wars - no land from Germany or Japan or Korea; no treasure; no oath of fealty."

The point is not whether this is historically ludicrous. It is whether it appears credible and desirable to his audience. Obviously it does. It reinforces the central idea that American power is a consequence of American virtue and in particular that it arises from the constitution, which he treats - as his audience does - as containing a sacred revelation that supercedes all others. "When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, [to defend the constitution] that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."...

There is only one problem with the speech if it is understood as an appeal to Americans shared understanding of themselves as a holy tribe: it places secular Americans firmly outside the tribe.

Chilling. The idea of a deity divinely blessing the waterboarding at Guantanamo, the thugs of Blackwater, the notion of slavery itself, ought to be repugnant to anyone who has anything more than contempt for the notion of the sacred.

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