God and Politics is not Mom and Apple Pie
By A. Freudenheim

17 September 2000

With the selection of Senator Lieberman as Vice President Al Gore's running mate this election, Gore has crossed a number of "t"s and dotted a range of "i"s in an effort to reach the White House on his own. Ostensibly, Lieberman injects a note of high moral character into the race, suffusing Gore's damaged-by-association campaign with integrity, honesty, and a host of other weighty-sounding words. Further, as we have seen - as I am certainly not the first to note - the choice of Lieberman has also reinvigorated the role of God in American politics.

The singular brilliance of the Clinton campaign and presidency was in its ability to co-opt the issues of the Republicans and thereby de-claw them. Clinton has walked a fine line in doing this, between the devil of action on the one side and the deep blue sea of rhetoric on the other. Some of these co-opted plans have been turned into legislation, with often poor results; others have merely served to attract voters and put the Republicans on the defensive, as we have seen with Clinton's church-going behavior and Baptist-influenced rhetorical style. However, under Clinton the fundamental aspect of "liberal" discourse that pushes religion out of the spotlight and makes it personal has not, remarkably, been very damaged. Until now.

From the national talking heads down to their poorer, leftie cousins, and through to organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, Candidate Lieberman has been chastised for drawing religion into politics. This is foolish, since as a candidate Lieberman's role is to sell himself - to present who he is and what he stands for in all its glory, and allow us, the voting public, to make a decision on the merits of the case he presents. By scaring him off the subject, Lieberman is forced to hide an aspect of himself that may - or may not - be a critical determining factor in his worldview and his decision-making processes. I'd rather know that now, before he's elected, than find it out later. Moreover, I cannot criticize the Senator for his personal religious views, nor can I criticize him for the idiosyncratic approach he takes in being an "Orthodox" Jew.

Yet the tone of his campaign since his nomination has crossed boundaries I do not like to see broken, particularly given the choices he has made in his own life. My single biggest concern is his infusion of (mono)theistic language into this campaign, and his statements to the effect that our national moral structure, as if there was such a thing, is born of Judeo-Christian values - and that it is to those values, and to that God, that we must (in some way) return.

This is nonsense. First of all, American "values" do not rest on these religious shoulders, at least not with the level of exclusivity implied by Lieberman's statements. Secondly, we have to question if there even is such a value system, grounded in anything remotely close to what Lieberman - and Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell, and Ronald Reagan, and even George W. Bush - would have us believe existed. The contradiction here is immediately apparent: the same nation that elected Reagan to two happy terms, and supports the continuation of the Cult of Reagan-era America is (mostly) the same population that elected Clinton to two terms. George W. would have us believe that this was somehow a mistake. Can that really be true?

Or is it simply that the American people are not as stupid as both sides assume? More importantly, and promisingly, we Americans seem less willing to have our needs, desires, and our moral structures pinned on us with too many assumptions by our would-be leaders. Our situation is more complicated than that - and this is a point that Senator Lieberman would do well to remember for the remaining weeks of the campaign.

Copyright 2000, by A. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired!