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The Theocrats are losing
Posted by: Jon Henke on Monday, April 25, 2005

In an email conversation, a reader has been asking me why I'm not as critical of the "religious right" as I am of Democrats. That's a very good question, and I think the answer is important. Simply: I think we're in more danger from the loss of economic liberty, than we are from the loss of social liberty.

I'm simply not persuaded by the argument that there is a burgeoning "Theocracy" in the United States. You can tell the Social Conservatives are losing by the very battles they are fighting. Almost without exception, they are doing rear-guard duty. I mean, we've got partial nudity on prime-time television, and gay marriage on the radar.

That's one hell of a long way from the 1940s-50s, where even married TV characters had separate beds, and the question was not whether homosexuals deserved marriage, but whether they deserved a lobotomy. We may feel strongly about arguments like the 10 Commandments statue, Intelligent Design in schools, and Janet Jackson's nipple, but the fact that we're arguing about these should indicate just how secular our government has become. 50 years ago, we were putting God into the Pledge of Allegiance, Intelligent Design would have been a big step forward for (creationism-dominated) science classes, and TV stations would have refused to show Janet Jackson from the forehead down.

So, yeah, I think we're winning the war against theocracy. We still argue around the margins, but in the main our culture is becoming more tolerant and pluralistic.

But this reader makes one comment I want to address on the blog:
"All of this [secularization] can be undone with a few Executive Orders, the FCC and various gov't bodies stacked with religious zealots, and a court system where the judges are like Scalia and other Federalist Society types that want to impose a religious moral code on the rest of us."
You already know what I think of the notion of "religious zealots", and I've dealt with the FCC argument before [the FCC is pretty much the same as its always been, we just notice it more now], but the Scalia thing has been bothering me for a bit. Recently, Scalia was accosted by an activist who asked him "Do you sodomize your wife?", apparently confusing Judge Scalia's dissent in the case of Lawrence V. Texas with the belief that the federal government should outlaw sodomy.

First, one should be careful of confusing Scalia's personal views with his views on legal issues. As he noted, interpreting the Constition "has nothing to do with what your social preferences are", adding that he "cannot do the horrible, conservative things I would like to do to society". (that's humor, in case you weren't sure)

More importantly, Scalia's decision in Lawrence V. Texas does not constitute "supporting criminal sanctions for others who [engage in sodomy]", as was suggested at the LeanLeft blog, any more than Scalia's no vote against a flag-burning ammendment constituted support for flag-burning.

Unfortunately, these critics are applying a consequentalist argument to Scalia's views on process, and assuming that Scalia supports any law he does not find unconstitutional. The problem with a legal consequentialist argument is that it utterly destroys process. Procedures put in place to safeguard democracy and rights become subservient to sufficiently loud cries of indignation. New rights are discovered; old rights are archived for possible future use.

At any rate, a brief reading of Scalia's dissent in Lawrence V. Texas should disabuse critics of the notion that Scalia, as a Supreme Court Justice, desires laws against sodomy.
I would no more require a State to criminalize homosexual acts—or, for that matter, display any moral disapprobation of them—than I would forbid it to do so. ... it is the premise of our system that those judgments are to be made by the people, and not imposed by a governing caste that knows best.
Unfortunately, procedural arguments are often confused with consequentalist interests, and originalists and States Rights supporters are called homophobic, racist, etc.

I'm troubled by the presence of those kind of laws, as pressed by Social Conservatives; I'm more troubled by the evisceration of process, as pressed by liberals and conservatives alike.
 
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The Theocrats are losing? Really?

But for the Theocrats, the so-called "Nuclear Option" would not be on the table. The Senate is poised to undo a 199 year-old rule that until now, has applied to nearly every single vote that has come before the full Senate. To me, if an interest group has the power to re-write a Senate rule that has stood for nearly 200 years in order to get their judges approved, that hardly seems like they are losing.

And it’s funny you focus on process. Because the implications of what the Theocrats are about to achieve go far beyond judicial nominations - the implications extend to the process of all lawmaking in the Senate. To change a Senate rule, a 2/3 majority is usually required. But through a few parlimentary tricks, the Republicans are poised to change the fillibuster rule by a simple majority. (See this link for an explanation.) In other words, the Senate intends not only to dispense with a 199 year old rule, at least in one context, but they also intend to dispense with the who procedure by which all Senate rules are made, or unmade. All in service of the Theocrats to whom they are beholden.

The implications of the procedural change is more important than the substantive one. Has any other single interest group ever achieved such a change of such magnitude in the history of Congress? I highly doubt it. But to call this "losing" is - to make the understatement of the year - highly misleading.

To say the Theocrats are losing because we saw Janet Jackson’s nipple is to miss the forest for the trees. The issue is not what is happening now; the issue is where are we going. And if we are going in a direction where the Theocrats literally have the power to change the way in which law is made, then I think we are all in trouble. No one interest group should have such power.

Remember what they have said: their next step is to de-fund the courts entirely until they start upholding their agenda in its entirety. And by changing the way the law is made, now they only need 51 votes to de-fund the courts. The courts might declare such a rule unconstitutional. But if the courthouse doesn’t have the funds to open in the first place, that seems highly unlikely, now doesn’t it?

***
Unfortunately, procedural arguments are often confused with consequentalist interests, and originalists and States Rights supporters are called homophobic, racist, etc.


Funny, everytime I argued that the procedure we used in deciding to attack Iraq was wrong, and that we have spent too many lives and too much money for what little we have received in return, I have been told that I want Saddam in power. Of course, the wingers who said that to me were failing to distinguish process from consequence. I can’t recall: Did this blog complain on those grounds at the time?
 
Written By: mkultra
URL: http://
As a quasi-religious person myself, the whole Theocrat! meme is stupid. Which flavor of Jesus will be used to determine the law? The methodists don’t object to liquor like the Southern Baptists, the whole protestant section won’t recognize the Pope as the spiritual leader of the Christian Faith and the Mormons won’t recognize the "No Soliciting" sign on my f@#king door.

And don’t get me started about Jehovah’s witnesses.
 
Written By: Sharp as a Marble
URL: http://sharpmarbles.stufftoread.com
And once again we see that in mkultra’s world, all Republicans and any Democrats to the right of him are Theocrat!Politicians. Cuz it’s the Theocrat Party, don’tcha know.
 
Written By: Dave
URL: http://www.thepatriette.com/dangerous
MKultra, you really have to tell me where you get tht peculiar brand of duct tape that you uuse to keep your head from exploding.

Yes, and your arguments on Iraq were comical and unidimensional. I have no doubt that had political positions been reversed (Gore as president and about to attack Iraq), you would have been arguing just as verhemently to go to war.

I fully subscribe to Heinlein’s dictum that one man’s religion is another man’s bellylaugh. As completely disinterested in religion as I am, I have friends who feel strongly about one faith (Christianity) or another (Judaism). I respect their need for religion as they respect my un-need for it.

About the only other religious people I cannot abide are the many leftists who seek to proselytize me with their peculiar belief systems, and to which I respond with a very hearty belly laugh.

As I am doing now to you. ;)
 
Written By: capt joe
URL: http://
It seems to me that the thrust of this debate is predicated upon who is framing it. If you want to charicature all social conservatives as Jerry Falwell types, then sure the secularists are "winning". If, on the other hand, you portray social conservatives as those who simply want to maintain some semblence of traditional values and not have all divine references eradicated by the ACLU, then I think you’ll find secularists losing the battle.

Also, much of the question of who is winning is based on the timeline used as a basis for comparison. If you go back to the 40’s and early 50’s, then we are absolutely more secularized now. But if you go back only 40 years, I think you’d conclude that the trend toward secularism is being reversed.
 
Written By: PlaidBerry
URL: http://plaidberry.blogspot.com
But for the Theocrats, the so-called "Nuclear Option" would not be on the table.
And if they change the rule, then that will allow Bush to appoint 4 judges to federal courts. And when the Democrats next take control, they’ll take advantage of it. Unless you believe the Democrats are too pristine of character to, gosh, use Senate technicalities to get their way. You know, like they’re doing right now. The Democrats technical parliamentarian maneuvers were blocked by Republican technical parliamentarian maneuvers. Color me unimpressed at the newfound outrage over technical parliamentarian maneuvers.

Oh, and color me unimpressed about the hysteria arising about those candidates, too. That’s just de rigueur—partisans and fools tend to always believe the sky is falling. Recall that Ted Kennedy said of Rehnquists record during confirmation hearings that it "reveals a dangerous hostility to the great principles of individual freedom under the Bill of Rights and equal justice for all people".

So, I’m just not impressed when you tell me now that the sky is falling, because your parliamentarian maneuver was cut off at its knees.
their next step is to de-fund the courts entirely until they start upholding their agenda in its entirety.
Oh, is that what James Dobson is threatening? Be still my heart.
Funny, everytime I argued that the procedure we used in deciding to attack Iraq was wrong, and that we have spent too many lives and too much money for what little we have received in return, I have been told that I want Saddam in power. Of course, the wingers who said that to me were failing to distinguish process from consequence. I can’t recall: Did this blog complain on those grounds at the time?
If you have, point it out. I think such arguments are ridiculous on their face. For example, while I oppose war against North Korea, that doesn’t make me a Kim Jong-Il supporter. You’re certainly allowed to think that the procedure to go to war with Iraq was wrong. I’d disagree. For that matter, so would Bill Clinton. But hey, to each their own.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
But for the Theocrats, the so-called "Nuclear Option" would not be on the table.


This is sheer revisionism of recent history. The so-called "nuclear option" was on the table well before the Shiavo legislation was passed, which is what got the "theocrats" all up in arms. Prior to that, the only part of the nomination process that inflamed religious folks because of their religious convictions was Schumer’s asinine admission of the religious test (or should I say, non-religious test) he imposed on William Pryor. Janice Rogers Brown, William Pickering, Miguel Estrada, et. al. are not candidates that were (note the tense) of particular interest to the religious right but are exactly the candidates that the "nuclear option" was designed to get through.

Hey, but congratulations at staying on message with your Democratic talking points. I realize you guys were worried about losing your grip on the courts prior to DeLay’s giant tantrum and I realize what a godsend this opportunity to hyperventilate and demagogue about "theocrats" is. Have at it. But please understand that even though you have utterly convinced yourself of your sincerity, the vast majority of other folks see through the ruse entirely.
The Senate is poised to undo a 199 year-old rule that until now, has applied to nearly every single vote that has come before the full Senate. To me, if an interest group has the power to re-write a Senate rule that has stood for nearly 200 years in order to get their judges approved, that hardly seems like they are losing.
Yet another lefty that is wearing blinders:

#1. where it concerns Byrd’s prior manuevering on the subject of filibusters; and

#2. where it concerns the unprecedented nature of the Democrats recent abuse of the "199 year old" filibuster rule.

Both you and the article you cite later just seem to skim over that as if it were irrelevent. The slippery slope apparently isn’t quite as slippery as you claim it is.
To change a Senate rule, a 2/3 majority is usually required. But through a few parlimentary tricks, the Republicans are poised to change the fillibuster rule by a simple majority. (See this link for an explanation.)
#1. Sustaining a point-of-order always takes a mere majority vote. The Republicans didn’t create that rule, it too has been in place for decades;

#2. Any senate rule can be changed on a simple majority vote. It is cloture to get to a vote that requires a 2/3rds majority (see below); and

#3. What you and the article you cite don’t note is that cloture on a Rule change doesn’t require a 2/3rds majority of all sitting Senators, it just requires a 2/3rds majority of all Senators present at the time of the vote. Senate rules have been changed numerous times in the past with far less than 67 votes because the majority wanting the rule change merely waited for the perfect opportunity to call the vote. Yet somehjow we have not devolved into a tyranny. Again, the slippery slope apparently isn’t quite as slippery as you thought it was.
Remember what they have said: their next step is to de-fund the courts entirely until they start upholding their agenda in its entirety. And by changing the way the law is made, now they only need 51 votes to de-fund the courts. The courts might declare such a rule unconstitutional. But if the courthouse doesn’t have the funds to open in the first place, that seems highly unlikely, now doesn’t it?
This is a pipe-dream, on both your part and DeLay’s. Check the comments on the earlier post by McQ on the subject. Plus, as far as I can tell, 3 idiots have said this. Suuuuuuure it’s gonna happen.
 
Written By: Terry
URL: http://
BTW, here is a searchable copy of the Senate Rules.
 
Written By: Terry
URL: http://
Let me say just one thing.

Damned good post.
 
Written By: LASunsett
URL: http://poli-yy.blogspot.com
Funny thing;

The reality is, social issues have LONG been fought in religious framework... since the civil war and before. Slavery, civil rights for minorities and so on have all been so. Many victories were won under that banner.

But Oh, dear.....let someone from other than the left... whose connection with religion has always at best been selective, let them play that card and suddenly the left is all worried about the erruption of a theocracy, and others declare the has been with us for only the last 40 years... (Since Goldwater caused the slpit on the right) and that the Theocracy is already *losing*.

Forgive me if I’m unimpressed with EITHER argument.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
But please understand that even though you have utterly convinced yourself of your sincerity, the vast majority of other folks see through the ruse entirely.
Well, apparently they are seeing through the ruse, but it’s someone else’s: Today’s Washington Post poll indicated that 66% of those polled "oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush’s judicial nominees", compared to 26% in favor.
Recall that Ted Kennedy said of Rehnquists record during confirmation hearings that it "reveals a dangerous hostility to the great principles of individual freedom under the Bill of Rights and equal justice for all people".
Yes, and see Bush v. Gore.
If you have, point it out. I think such arguments are ridiculous on their face.
Well, have a look at the first paragraph here at right wing news. I have heard President Bush imply on a number of occasions that opponents of the war in Iraq want Saddam to have remained in power. In his joint press conference with Hamid Karzai, which took place about 4 months before the election, Bush stated
I look forward to the debate, for people saying, "Oh, gosh, the world would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power."
 
Written By: David in AK
URL: http://
C’Mon Jon:
And if they change the rule, then that will allow Bush to appoint 4 judges to federal courts. And when the Democrats next take control, they’ll take advantage of it. Unless you believe the Democrats are too pristine of character to, gosh, use Senate technicalities to get their way. You know, like they’re doing right now.
A technicality is a point or detail having meaning only to a specialist. The fillibuster rule is the opposite; it’s a rule that has meaning to both the specialists and the laity. The minority can block the majority. Easy. Why do you think it’s been all over the news?

The Senate GOP’s planned abortion of the fillibuster - on the other hand - takes advantage of a true technicality. The fillbuster rule HAS NEVER been repealed for any purpose, ergo the need for a technicality. Explain the process of repealing it, and you will see what I mean.

As for the rest of the post, it’s dismissive tone is weird and kinda out of touch. Each side of the debate agrees on that. The secular left sees the evangelical right as a dangerous and powerful threat. The evangelical right sees the secular left as evil and blasphemous. Maybe you’re right - it’s all huffing and puffing. Hope so. But if you’re not ....


 
Written By: mkultra
URL: http://
Jon, great post sure to inflame some paranoid sheep. I have become convinced that the Left’s strategy of targeting of religion as an evil power wielded by the Theocrats must have been developed with the use of focus groups, because it has so effectively enraged so many. It’s the cause of the day. It will be interesting to see what the cause of the day will be in a decade or so.

mkultra, I see the secular left as suckers responding to a focus-group-developed cynical political strategy. Maybe I’m paranoid too.
 
Written By: zip
URL: http://
Yes, and see Bush v. Gore.
Actually, Kennedy was referring to racial issues.
Well, have a look at the first paragraph here at right wing news.
MK claimed we had made that argument. I’ve heard the argument made many times, and I think it’s blindingly obtuse. I think a perfectly reasonable "opportunity cost" case can be made that "the world would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power". I disagree, but it’s a subjective judgement.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
A technicality is a point or detail having meaning only to a specialist. The fillibuster rule is the opposite; it’s a rule that has meaning to both the specialists and the laity.
Well, that’s one of the definitions. It’s also a small detail. The filibuster is widely recognized because it’s a technicality that has been famously used. In any event, it’s a use of a narrow parliamentarian rule to subvert normal procedure. I’ve no particular problem with its existence, and I’m nominally worried about its absence, but I’m not particularly naive about the Democrats respect for it. If their ox was getting gored like this, it’d already be gone.
The fillbuster rule HAS NEVER been repealed for any purpose, ergo the need for a technicality. Explain the process of repealing it, and you will see what I mean.
Repeal? They want to change the number of votes necessary to end a filibuster. That’s no different than was done by Senator Byrd, when he adjusted it from 67 votes to 60. Tell me, Mk (knowing full well you won’t), what is the Constitutional requirement for a vote to break a filibuster? Was it acceptable to drop it to 60 to gain party advantage, but not to 50?
The fillbuster rule HAS NEVER been repealed for any purpose, ergo the need for a technicality.
Yeah, well it’s not for lack of trying:
"The proposal’s sponsor said that “the filibuster rules are unconstitutional” and was quoted as saying “the filibuster is nothing short of legislative piracy.” He announced his intent to end all filibusters with an unambiguous statement: “We cannot allow the filibuster to bring Congress to a grinding halt. So today I start a drive to do away with a dinosaur — the filibuster rule.” [...] the proposal wasn’t offered by Republicans; it was introduced in 1995 by senior Democrats, including Sens. Lieberman and Tom Harkin (D., Iowa). When it came to a vote, 19 Democrats, including leading blue-state senators such as Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, supported the measure.

Unlike the attempts by Democrats to end all filibusters, the effort by Senate Republicans is limited to the judicial confirmation process.
Oh, well, yeah...that.

 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Did you guys note Frist’s move on this?
He simply re-introduced the legislation, pretty much word for word, that the Democrats introduced in 1995.

I can’t imagine the Democrats... particularly the then sponsers of that Bill not getting their BVD’s in a twist over that one.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Well, have a look at the first paragraph here at right wing news. I have heard President Bush imply on a number of occasions that opponents of the war in Iraq want Saddam to have remained in power. In his joint press conference with Hamid Karzai, which took place about 4 months before the election, Bush stated

I look forward to the debate, for people saying, "Oh, gosh, the world would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power."
So, you really think that argument wasn’t tried?

Comon, David.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Somehow in all this new-found outrage over Theocracy and the involvement of relgion in politics people seem to forget (conveniently) that religious leaders were responsible for many of the major reform movements of the day. Of course, those were left-wing movements, so I guess that is acceptable.

But I don’t recall anyone, Democrat or Republican, arguing that Martin Luther King’s involvement in the civil rights movement was wrong because he was a minister, or complaining about the role of black churches in providing logistical, organizational and financial support to the movement. Why was that ok but what is happening now unacceptable? Should we cancel MLK Day so as not to honor a religious figure?
 
Written By: TheFaz
URL: http://
Fax;

I’ve made the same point.
We agree.

Perhaps then, the real problem here is that the left, left religiojn behind them,, like a broken drillbit, once those gains were made, once those holes were punched.... back in the late 60’s and early 70’s... and have been doing naught by playinga cynical lipservice the the religious ever since... and perhaps while the civil rights debates were still being waged. In recent years, this attempt at disconnecting American society from the values that gave the Democrats those victories has become more pronounced.

I say, this is not a case of the right becoming more religious, but the left leaving it behind... and in so doing, leaving the vast majority of Americans behind, as well. Thus the shift away from the Democrats. Only logical that the people would react so. I think this a major factor in John Kerry’s defeat, for an example.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
For those interested in the history of secularism vs. religion in American history, including those who argue that religion formed the vanguard for major social change, I suggest Susan Jacoby’s book "Freethinkers". From emancipation to women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement, it becomes clear that religious leaders generally were "johnny come lately’s" to the causes—often after vehemently opposing them. She also traces the ebb and flow of secular and sectarian influence in our society, including how we came to have "In God we trust" stuck onto our currency (certainly not by our founding fathers).
 
Written By: David in AK
URL: http://
Ah, yes... Susan Jacoby.
She of the "FREETHINKERS: A HISTORY OF AMERICAN SECULARISM", She, who at every tunr has taken a rather solid position againsyt the influence of Religion in American history....

Sorry, I’m going to need something with a bit more substance and a bit less pre-determined view.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com

 
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