"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." —Matthew 7:15
We like to think that our gallant little independent-minded State of South Carolina always has more influence than our size allows. That certainly seems to be true in the present presidential primary season. If you believe their advertisements, we have converted every single one of the Republican “front-runners” into intrepid Horatios at the Bridge, defending our borders against the onslaught of illegal aliens. Indeed, they are boasting mightily as to who is the staunchest “conservative.” Huckabee from the rotten borough of Arkansas has even become so excited by the scent of the slops in the presidential trough that he has sent out minions to claim that, unlike his opponents, he is proud to respect our oppressed Southern flag. (Of course, he is making sure that he has personal deniability on the question and will not have to blatantly lie in the future as McCain did the last time around.)
The flourishing of the Reverend Mr. Huckabee marks the reductio ad absurdum of the latest American manifestation of religion in politics. Remember how this started. Back during the moral breakdown of the 1960s, it seemed to be a good idea to get the churches involved and get some moral input into the political process. That has been a total unmitigated failure—unless you consider bringing power and pelf to a few “religious leaders” to be a sign of success.
It was child’s play for the politicians to bribe and flatter the “leaders” into delivering the votes in exchange for a few bromides about “family values” and “right to life.” The role of Protestant minister, in the less structured denominations, is accompanied by a great deal of temptation for the ego (which perhaps effects Catholics only further up the hierarchy). Their status being somewhat infra dig and, like most Americans, lusting most of all for “respectability,” the “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” leaders were easily seduced by a few nods from Power.
This is an old, old story in American history. It was the fanatical Puritan preachers of New England who created Jefferson’s distaste for clergy in politics. (Any way, Jefferson’s “wall of separation” was meant more to protect the faith from the contamination of politicians than to exclude the faith from the public sphere.) A fundamental cause of the War between the States was Northern preachers screaming hatred and violence against their Southern fellow citizens. (Look into the career of the Rev. Mr. Henry Ward Beecher, a sort of Anglo-Saxon Martin Luther King, Jr., whose moral crusade against slavery was marked by egomania, lying, and sexual predation.)
Such ecclesiastical politicians for decades after the War kept up the Republican demagoguery of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.” They glorified World War I as a noble crusade and foisted on the country the corruption of Prohibition, in defiance of all common sense and State’s rights. So corrupted by politics were the 1960s representatives of the faith that we endured such abominations as "freedom-riding" nuns and the murder of the unborn reduced to a "civil rights" issue. In our own time, the political preachers have served only to lend a facade of piety and morality to a ruling elite without any sense of right and wrong but only manipulative techniques and a self-serving agenda. They bear a disproportionate share of guilt as enablers of the malignant regime of Bush.
(On Saturday, January 19, I will take time away from the honouring of General Lee's 201st birthday and break my vow never to vote again in order to punch a primary ballot for Dr. Paul, with a modest hope.)