Friday, November 4, 2005

Jimmy Carter’s Endangered Values

Jimmy Carter has written a book, Our Endangered Values—which has him sounding as a mint julep version of Michael Moore. A book that strikes at what he calls “religious fundamentalism” applied to politics—but it is clear that what he dislikes are those who bring their strict sense of right and wrong to politics which harms his own Democratic party. In interviews promoting the book, he presents a very muddled relativism: what’s good for you may be bad for me and vice versa.

In behalf of his relativism, in wide-ranging interviews, he speaks in a soft, calm voice tinged with a pleasing southern accent but nonetheless an outrageous pretext, linking people of strong Christian religious conviction to fundamentalist Islamists. To follow his courtly-phrased slurs to their intended conclusion, those who apply Christian tenets to politics are no different than those who blow up school-buses to make a point. That this outrageous murmured prescription, presented by one with rheumy blue eyes and thoughtful finger cupped to his cheek in Great Author-Man of Conscience pose ignores Carter’s own history. For in modern times, no one capitalized more on being a born-again Christian in politics than Sir Jimmy who first came to national attention winning the Iowa caucuses in 1976.

And how did he win those caucuses? Political historians tell us how. He brought thousands of new recruits to his behalf in the Democratic party. The new recruits were from Christian evangelist churches spurred by this Sunday school-teaching ex-governor of Georgia who trumpeted that he was the man with God’s message: especially against abortion. Only after the caucuses were completed did we discover that he was “personally opposed” but had no intention of interrupting the pro-abortion flow of the Democratic party. It was a legendary scam and as president Carter behaved no different than the usual flow of liberals.

No one has ever relied on Jimmy Carter for a sense of history, but it is instructive that he ignores the first modern progenitor of Christian values in politics. That would be a Democratic first-term Congressman William Jennings Bryan, the famed grand orator from Nebraska, who linked free silver with Christianity and big business reliance on gold with the devil. In his technically brilliant pyrotechnics at the Chicago Coliseum in 1896 which my Democratic Irish grandfather attended, Bryan, with no electronic amplification and in a voice that could be heard distinctly in that cavernous temple proclaimed: “We shall answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: `You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a Cross of Gold!” Before Bryan, abolitionists and prohibitionists linked politics with religion but Bryan was the first to lash it to the decks in behalf of populist economics and foreign policy.

As secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson he pursued a policy of pacifism which led him to make a dramatic resignation from that office at the outset of World War I. Bryan was to make yet another dramatic appearance: in behalf of biblical fundamentalism in the Scopes case where he met in court battle with the atheist Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow.
But Bryan’s moral absolutism tied to politics was quickly appropriated by others including Theodore Roosevelt who, again in Chicago and at the Progressive party convention at the Auditorium thundered: “We meet at Armageddon and battle for the Lord!” In those days Americans were closer to the Bible and understood that the term (in Revelation 16:16) referred to a literal gathering of armies at an exact geographical location in the Middle East where there will be a final worldwide conflict between wicked mankind and the forces of Jesus Christ.

In addition to his failure to make the origin of fundamentalism clear in his book and interviews, Carter is adding to a current popular myth: that somehow it is extreme to believe that public policy should be put to service of certain moral values. To disdain such convictions is to cause politics to tumble into nihilism. Positive change has always come from the linkage of moral issues to politics, and no one should know that better than Jimmy Carter who saw first-hand the dramatic and salutary changes that came first in the South through civil rights which was indissolubly tied to moral conviction in the black churches. What Carter objects to is the application of moral values involving abortion to the political order which would mean that the same energy that drove civil rights progress would be applied to the origin of life. Since the Democratic party has made a commitment to be nihilistic on the life issue—or at worst to maintain that life does not begin in the womb—this puts Carter’s party at a grave disadvantage in public debate.
Thus Carter would prefer to be nihilistic at that point—which is o.k. But he goes farther and blasts those who don’t agree with him as “fundamentalists” and therefore akin to the Taliban.

To say the least, Jimmy Carter (no powerful thinker, ever) is inconsistent as one who has seen high moral principle as applied to civil rights and anti-poverty but not on life issues.

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis on what makes Carter tick, and thanks for the history lesson on Bryan. I listen to the ID vs Evolution debates and surprized how little the left knows about Bryan. He was one of them.

    I like Bryan but time softens the edges. Time hasn't soften Carter yet for me.