One thing I’m not going to do is take part in the Democrat circular firing squad, wringing my hands about what wasn’t done, or where we went wrong, why our message didn’t get across. Why not? Because I’m from Texas. Unlike most of my New York friends, I don’t have to give red-staters the benefit of the doubt. I was raised devoutly in the Southern Baptist Church – in fact, First Baptist of Dallas, the south’s largest Baptist church, and the one Billy Graham belonged to. I know these people who voted for Bush. Some of them are bullies. Some are outrageous hypocrites, girls who would savage each other’s reputations and then get up in front of the choir and give the most sincere-sounding pious homilies. Many use their so-called Christian “faith” as an excuse to assume their own infallibility and never examine their own motives – just like W. When I was 15 I was taken to a week-long convocation, in a huge stadium filled with believers, called the Bill Gothard Seminar. Gothard was a charismatic guy who preached that the Christian life consisted of sound business practices, and that if you lived it, God would make you rich – in fact, you could tell who was really godly, because by the logic of the belief, they had the most money. I was thoughtful enough at 15, and familiar enough with what Christ was actually quoted as saying, to be somewhat horrified by this as it sunk in.
One of the things I’m most ashamed of in my life is something I did for the Church. The First Baptist Church of Dallas grouped us choir members in pairs and sent us out on the streets to proselytize. We were handed sheets of questions, and instructed to tell passersby that we were conducting a survey. So the nice people would stop to be helpful by answering our questions, and we would gradually lead up to trying to convert them, getting them to pray there on the street and dedicate their life to Christ. It was really embarrassing – lying to strangers as instructed to by the church. Bait ‘n’ switch is a perfectly acceptable strategy to the Southern Baptist Church – no wonder W. doesn’t understand why anyone should object to it. The absolute desirability of the end always justified any means, no matter how dishonest, which is exactly the pathology we see in the White House today.
My break with the church came in several stages. One turning point came in 1976, when I came home from college, went to First Baptist, and the pastor Wally Amos Criswell instructed the congregation not to vote for Jimmy Carter, who was a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher, but the Republican Gerald Ford. Another was a few years later when NBC aired a made-for-TV movie called The Day After, about the speculative aftermath of a nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and Russia. Fundamentalist church groups protested the movie on the grounds that it might scare away Americans from continuing the massive nuclear buildup we’d need for Armageddon. That’s when I realized that the church wasn’t merely a harmless anachronism, but the actual enemy.
Of course, only 64 percent of Texans voted for Bush, and you can’t tar every resident there with the same brush. But the state is populated by enough smarmy, dishonest, arrogant, bullying, jingoistic, homophobic, bigoted people that I’m not going to flagellate myself wondering why they didn’t go for someone as noble, introspective, intelligent, and fair as John Kerry. They went for the arrogant asshole created in their own image. No broader theme, no simpler message, no more quotidian concerns would have ever won those people over – it would have taken an army of psychotherapists, some straitjackets, and a few cattle prods.
And so it really pissed me off tonight when I’m sitting here listening to WAMC, our local NPR station, in hopes of some comfort, and some guy starts lecturing Democrats on how Bush won because he had a “moral vision,” and the Democrats didn’t come up with any “moral vision.” What moral vision? Invading a country that posed no threat, and killing 100,000 people, most of them innocent women and children? Outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent for revenge on her husband? Sneaking around the Geneva Convention to torture and sexually humiliate Iraqis randomly dragged in off the street? Stripping people of their civil rights to spy on them? Suppressing minority votes? Lying to destroy the reputations of war heroes? Raping the environment? Well, I don’t know if you’d call it a moral vision, but it’s certainly the Baptist Church I recognize from my youth. And while I admittedly wish Kerry were going to be president, I feel better knowing that my liberal friends in New York and I occupied the moral high ground in this election, than if we had sunk to Bush’s level to win. We had our own moral vision, which genocide, election-stealing, and lying played no part in.
Sorry, my European friends, this is no aberration: you’re just finally seeing the real America, or at least half of it. People steeped in a warped religion prefer the warped guy, and the unscrupulous rich do the rest. Maybe Clinton won because Bush 41 and Dole weren’t warped enough, and Clinton looked like enough of a good ol’ boy to maybe be a little warped underneath. What were we supposed to do this time, convince them that Kerry is more warped than he looks?
UPDATE: Here’s an article by someone at Salon.com who agrees with me about the “heartland.”