Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Why They Hate Him

It's not a particularly trenchant insight to observe that the left in America despises George Bush. What is interesting is the question why this is so. The left, of course, has hated every Republican president at least since Eisenhower, and especially Nixon, Reagan, and George W. so hatred is perhaps an ugly allele in their political genome. Beyond that there are a number of ostensive reasons given as to why the left feels so much contempt for this president: his tax cuts, Iraq, his alienation of the French, the Florida election fiasco, and his allegedly sub-standard IQ all come to mind, but perhaps the real reason is none of these.

I suspect he's hated by the left primarily because he is feared by them, and he's feared because he is resolutely pro-life on abortion and because he is explicitly and unabashedly Christian. If Bush were a staunch defender of a woman's right to an abortion, and if he were more muted in his expressions of faith, the left would still oppose him, of course, but they wouldn't despise him. They would regard him as a reinstantiation of Gerald Ford. As it is, however, they see him as an imminent threat to two things which are of paramount importance to them. They see him as a clear and present danger to Roe v. Wade, and they see him as a serious menace to the realization of the secularist dream of a religion-free society.

They know that in a second term Bush will have the opportunity to appoint numerous judges to the federal bench and three, maybe even four, justices to the Supreme Court. Moreover, depending on how the senatorial elections go in November, the liberals may lack sufficient strength in the senate to continue to block his judicial nominations.

In other words, whoever is elected president in November may well establish the moral and spiritual direction this country will follow for the next two generations. The choice is between continuing the ongoing Europeanization of America or perhaps rolling back some of the more egregious Supreme Court decisions of the last sixty years. The left devoutly wishes the former and is horrified at the prospect of the latter. Thus Bush must be defeated at all costs, he is the closest thing to Satan which exists in the liberal mythos and their hatred for him is amply justified in their minds by the nature of the threat he poses.

John Leo thinks there is something of this political contempt underlying the recent failure of the Supreme Court to address head-on the question of the constitutional propriety of the under God phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance in the recent Newdow case. He writes:

"Call me a cynic, but I think the liberals on the court didn't want to cause an uproar that would help Republicans in an election year. Better to come up with a soothing but temporary political decision -- restoring "under God" for now while clearly inviting a future challenge that the court will be only too happy to grant once the political coast is clear."

The left is aware that there are a number of court decisions that would not withstand scrutiny from jurists committed to maintaining the integrity of the Constitution rather than wresting it to conform to contemporary ideological fashion. Roe v. Wade would certainly be vulnerable to a Court whose decisions were governed by what the constitution says rather than by what five justices think it should say.

Another awful decision, one whose reversal would go a long way toward restoring some measure of common sense to our understanding of the role of religion in society, and one which a conservative court might be expected to revisit, is Everson v. Board of Education (1947). This was the case which incorporated the language of separation of church and state into the legal understanding of the first amendment. The Everson court cited this particular phrase in an 1802 letter from Thomas Jefferson to Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut who were concerned that Jefferson intended to establish a national religious denomination. Jefferson wrote to reassure them that this was not the case, and he borrowed from another Baptist preacher, Roger Williams, the idea of "a wall of separation between church and state" to persuade the Baptists that the church should be protected from interference by the government.

It is hard to read the history of this episode and come reasonably to the conclusion that Jefferson wished to exclude all references to God from our public ceremonies and discourse. Jefferson, after all, within a year of writing this letter, signed legislation giving money to evangelize Indians. He also used state funds to establish a divinity department at the University of Virginia and declared that students of the university were expected to attend religious services.

To cite this letter as being somehow dispositive in revealing what the framers had in mind as they drew up the Bill of Rights is ludicrous since Jefferson was in France when the first amendment was being crafted. Just as pernicious, however, was the decision by the Everson court to extend the injunction against Congress' making any law which would establish a religion to the states and hence to every level of government. The logic of this ruling has led to the effort on the part of secularists to proscribe every reference to anything which could be construed as religious in any venue supported by public monies.

That the Founders never intended the first amendment to apply to other than the federal government is clear from the fact that many of the original thirteen states required their elected officials to declare a personal commitment to orthodox Christianity, and five of the thirteen states had official state churches. These states didn't disestablish their churches after they voted to ratify the first amendment. Indeed, they never saw themselves as in breach of it because the amendment didn't apply to the states until the Supreme Court finally discovered the apparent oversight in 1947. Now Everson is used to sweep not just sectarian religious references and symbols from every nook and cranny of the public square, but even mention of an abstract, generalized deity is taboo.

Thus Newdow was evidently really all about Everson. The crucial question lurking in the background was whether or not the Court was going to take Everson to its logical conclusion, and, if not, would Everson eventually be rolled back. It's hard to overstate the stakes here. If the Court followed the logic of Everson and found that the phrase under God, when recited in public schools, violated the separation of church and state and therefore decided in favor of Mr. Newdow, the winds of secularism blowing through our society would become a gale. This, however, would carry with it the risk of roiling the electorate into such a lather that Bush might be given the opportunity in a second term to restructure the Court in ways that would redound throughout the next fifty years.

On the other hand, if the Justices found against Mr. Newdow by upholding the constitutional propriety of the under God language they would have implicitly repudiated Everson and thus risked laying the ground work for the overturning of, not only Everson, but a string of subsequent decisions based upon it. So the Court did neither, ruling instead that Mr. Newdow did not have legal standing to bring suit against the defendant and leaving the door open, as Leo points out, for another challenge sometime in the future when the political risks are not as significant.

The Supreme Court has, by ducking a definitive decision in the Newdow case, poorly served our nation. As John Leo says, "We deserve a better, more honest Supreme Court."