The Curse of Jimmy Carter’s Ghost

Usually, when conservatives express their fear that Christmas is under siege, they at least manage to string together a few unconvincing anecdotes to support their position. You know the sort of thing: "Welcome to the No-Spin Zone. Ladies and gentlemen, … Read More

By / December 26, 2007

Usually, when conservatives express their fear that Christmas is under siege, they at least manage to string together a few unconvincing anecdotes to support their position. You know the sort of thing: "Welcome to the No-Spin Zone. Ladies and gentlemen, secularists have reached a new low! This past month, a middle school in Eugene, Oregon canceled its planned nativity recreation, the condo board of the Kings' Arms luxury residential complex in Lee's Summit, Missouri, prohibited a resident from erecting a 15-foot high green and red neon cross, and the O'Shaughnessy's department store of Eagle River, Michigan, asked its sales associates to wish customers Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays." And soon enough, pressure from aggrieved letter-writers shows retail store managers just how unconscionable it is to express the hope that someone's holidays are happy. The crisis is averted, and once again, the free market bails out Christmas.

John Ridley, no conservative by any means, has a message for the lefties at the Huffington Post, uncontaminated by even the meager evidence typical of a Bill O'Reilly or John Gibson war-on-the-war-on-Christmas screed. Look, lefties, Ridley is signalling. The goyim aren't watching so there's no harm in admitting your reflexive hostility to religious, and particularly Christian symbols. That's the first step to recovery:

And yet, despite the fact the majority of us acknowledge Christmas in some way, in typically liberal fashion the fringe uses the censorship of political correctness to turn "Merry Christmas" in a verboten phrase.

And it's true. Saying "Merry Christmas" is a sure way to get yourself a visit from the Swarthmore Education Department Geheime Staatspolizei. And yet — as many wise men have said — Ridley's purpose is not so much to be a lonely liberal paladin standing up for the tyrannized Christan community in America, as to flatten the left's hypocrisies when it comes to religion generally. You see, liberals elected Jimmy Carter, a born-again dupe deep-fried in peanut oil. And liberals look the other way when the Obama campaign doubles as a gospel tour, or when Harold Ford films his campaign ads in church. But when Mike Huckabee sends the voters of Iowa a very special holiday message reminding them that Jesus Christ is his personal Lord and Savior — there's no subtext there, ye of little faith; in non-election years, Huckabee personally sends a Christmas card to every resident of Iowa — radical leftists like Bill Donohue and Ron Paul start saying intemperate things.

Ridley does have a point, to be fair, but it cuts more than one way. There is something inconsistent about liberals balking at Republicans' religious rhetoric but remaining conspicuously quiet when it comes from their own guys. And one way to resolve that inconsistency, of course, would be for liberals to insist that Democrats and Republicans alike be held to the same secular standards. Ridley counsels the opposite tactic:

If the far left were smart, instead of continuing to make religion a wedge issue, they would — as Obama has smartly tried to do — take religion off the table by displaying their faith.

Given the prevailing views in America, that's probably a smart play in the short term, but it's also a pre-emptive acquiescence to the transformation of American politics into an ecclesiastical enterprise. Then there's the small issue that not everybody has faith, and chiding the faithless for not displaying faith is a particularly ugly and exclusionary bit of political extortion. A further long-term problem with urging liberals — and here I mean liberals in the broadest possible sense — to display their faith is that no display will ever be ostentatious, gaudy, or tasteless enough to satisfy the voters who respond to Christian dog-whistling.

This bears some elaboration, because the pundit class, thunderstruck as it was by the tactical brilliance of Huckabee's Christmas ad, hasn't quite registered what it portends for future campaigns. Thanks to Huckabee, every candidate in every election during or near Christmas or Easter is going to have to do a Christian ad. Since matching Huckabeean (Huckabite?) sanctimony will take religion off the table, just as Ridley hopes, the next Huckabee will come up with something even more over the top. That's how nonsense like this escalates, and liberals who encourage Democrats to publicly adopt devotional poses are just as responsible as conservatives for the escalation. Think the flying cross and "Silent Night" background muzak were gauche? Wait until 2024, when all the presidential candidates in both parties will perform the stations of the cross in their springtime ad buys, with CGI realistic blood and violence to boot.

Incidentally, there is a fairly banal explanation of why liberals don't get their knickers in a twist when Democrats pander to credulous dimwits, but do turn a concerned glance towards Republicans who do the same. That reason is a near-mirror image of evangelical Republicans' willingness (at least until the Huckster came around) to be satiated by weird coded messages and invitations to eisegetical interpretations of stump speeches. The principle for both Democratic and Republican partisans is: "Look, so-and-so is one of us, and he (or she) is saying what he (or she) needs to in order to get elected. No need to worry."

So when Hillary Clinton says she opposes gay marriage for "personal" reasons, and refuses to explain any further, Democrats don't demand an explanation, any more than Republicans feel the need to press George Bush further on what he means by his denunciations of "activist judges."

Unfortunately for partisans who satisfy themselves that they alone in all the world know the deeply-held "true" beliefs of their favored candidates, incumbent politicians need to be re-elected, so waiting around for them to take a stand on controversial culture-war issues is bound to be a disappointing proposition. For example, as pro-gay rights Democrats should have learned a long time ago but still seem not to have, the Clintons will never pass up a chance to sell gay people down the river if they think it will gain them a marginal advantage on some front somewhere.

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