Commenting on Pat Robertson’s latest outrage may seem like the blogospheric equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel, but I will try to add a bit of value by offering a theological perspective on the Rev’s persistent habit of asserting that God Almighty will smite anyone who disagrees with Robertson’s views on society and politics. Certainly every religious person of any faith tries to do God’s will, and to humbly try to discern it in all public and private decisions. But it’s a peculiarity of fundamentalists (again, of every faith), and of the Christian Right in particular, to embrace their own interpretations of God’s Will as clear, certain and infallible, and to attribute a willful disobedience towards the divine order to anyone who might happen to hold a different interpretation. In the end, this tendency leads its practitioners dangerously close to the position that they literally speak for God on any matter they decide to talk about. In Pat Robertson’s case, he’s gone well over that line, and apparently thinks his judgments and God’s are identical, which to my point of view is self-idolatrous and indeed blasphemous. I’ve speculated at length elsewhere that this fanatical certainty that God has a clear position on every secular matter–and that dissenters know this and are consciously in rebellion against God–reflects the dire spiritual danger today’s cultural warriors have risked by providing religious sanction to the entirely secular conservative agenda they have chosen to emphasize over every task. After all, if they’re wrong in thinking that the clear lesson of Holy Scripture for today’s Christians is to criminalize abortion, demonize gay people, and reverse the changing gender roles of recent centuries, then they are the kind of “false prophets” that Holy Scripture warns us all to fear and reject, right? In that sense, Robertson stands out less for the breathtaking arrogance of his pronouncements, than for his remarkable lack of discretion in broadcasting them regularly.Still, you have to wish he’d finally retire and share his views less broadly, if only because of the scandal he so often brings to his faith and his country. (Wikipedia has an excellent summary of his fatuous fatwahs over the years).When I first heard that the Rev had breezily announced Ariel Sharon’s stroke was a direct Act of God, like many Christians, and many Americans, my first thought was please shut up. Or, to quote one of the preachers in the repertoire of the late Richard Pryor: “How long? How long? How long–must this b—s— go on?”
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By Ed Kilgore
Waiting for Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress to begin this week, I observed at New York that Republicans were struggling to define him consistently, which felt like a familiar problem for them:
When Bill Clinton was at the pre-Lewinsky peak of his powers, he drove Republicans nuts. They alternated between accusing him of “stealing our issues” with his triangulating pitches on welfare reform and crime and the size of government, and of being “liberal, liberal, liberal!” — a sort of boomer love child of George McGovern and Janis Joplin in a deceptive deep-fried southern packaging. Eventually the opportunity to depict him as a lying sexual predator solved the conservative dilemma, though you could argue he never stopped throwing them off-balance.
Republicans are similarly having problems getting a clear focus on Joe Biden, as the Los Angeles Times’ Noah Bierman observes:
“Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who has advised Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, [says] that his party’s two main messages about Biden are at odds with each other, blunting their impact. ‘The thing you hear Republicans say most is that he’s too old for the job, which isn’t consistent with saying he’s doing too much,’ Conant said. ‘You can’t effectively argue that he’s incompetent and that he’s too effective.'”
This dual framing of Biden was evident during the 2020 campaign, when Trump called him “Sleepy Joe” and with his usual lack of subtlety suggested his opponent was senile, even as he assailed Biden’s party of radical socialist aims. The 45th president and his surrogates squared the circle by treating Biden as the half-there puppet of the real powers, particularly the “communist” Kamala Harris.
But now, 100 days into the Biden-Harris administration, even though the new president has kept an unusually low profile, there are no signs of Harris or anyone else manipulating him. Indeed, so far his White House has been remarkably free of the factionalism that often undermines clear presidential leadership. With Clinton as president you had a White House staff famously divided (ironically, given the later reputations of the First Lady and the veep) into progressive “Rodhams” and centrist “Gores” who jockeyed for position and placed their varying stamps on administration policies. George W. Bush’s presidency was also marked by competing power centers (e.g., his terrifying vice-president and the “Boy Genius” Karl Rove); to a lesser extent, so was Obama’s. As for Donald Trump, hardly a week passed without someone — particularly his rotating cast of chiefs-of-staff — being described by “insiders” as the real power behind the throne or perhaps as the wild man’s lion-tamer.
Trump, of course, created some of the same problems for Democrats that Clinton — and now Biden — posed for Republicans. Was he the “toddler president” who ran a hollowed-out administration with no real core of convictions or goals? Or was he a putative Il Duce craftily planning an authoritarian takeover of the country? Up until the day he left office there was evidence for both descriptions. Indeed, the coda of his presidency, the January 6 Capitol riot, was variously regarded as a fascist coup attempt and a clown show.
Trump’s successor will have an opportunity in his first address to a joint session of Congress to add to the impression that he is quietly but firmly in charge of the executive branch, and has imposed order on his fractious party as he unveils yet another massive proposal. Kamala Harris will be sitting (and often standing and applauding) behind him, likely looking more like an adoring protégée than any sort of puppet-master. But if he stumbles at all, or looks tired, or says things that supposedly centrist Democrats like him don’t believe, the knees of many elephants will jerk and out will come the mockery of the old man who is a reassuring front for the Marxists actually running the country.
Such confusion if it continues will be of great service to Biden, much like the current Republican tendency to focus on irrelevant culture-war themes while a mostly united Democratic Party enacts legislative initiatives of a magnitude we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year in office. For all their political gifts, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — who, lest we forget, both had a much more firmly Democratic Senate and House the first two years of their presidencies — couldn’t come close to the mastery of Congress Biden has exhibited up until now. As Republicans watch Biden’s speech, they should soberly realize that before long it may not matter that much if they bust up the Democratic trifecta in 2022. The damage to GOP policies and priorities wrought by “Uncle Joe” and his “senile socialist regime” could be too large to reverse by then. While Republicans fret about Trump and rage about “cancel culture,” Biden is eating their lunch.