In 1951, William F. Buckley, Jr. published his famous book, “God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom.’” The book by the young Yale grad articulated ideas that would form the basis of modern conservatism: liberal ideology attempts to destroy faith in God and undermine individualism.
“Man” from the Buckley title was clearly in ascendance at the 2012 Republican National Convention, defined as the entrepreneurial individual who does not need anybody or anything to succeed.
This idea of “man” was well displayed especially in the kick-off convention theme of “We Built It” and carried through in many of the speeches. It struck me, in fact, that “We Built It” does assert “man’s” effort. But then that seemed to me to contradict the God language used by some speakers, but especially as phrased by Paul Ryan. that “our rights come from nature and God.”
Which is it? We did it all by ourselves, or do we rely on God?
This contradiction carried all the way through the convention to the conclusion on Thursday night. When in evidence, faith in God was personal, individual and private; when it came to policy, “man” was the key.
Women were not especially included in the theme of “We Built It” either, at least from the main speech directed to “women,” that of Ann Romney. Indeed, the contrast between Chris Christie’s “‘real men don’t need love, they get respect” tough guy speech, and Ann Romney’s repeated appeals to love was startlingly gender stereotyped. Men get respect, women give love.
Romney got to “women” via “love” as well, the “unconditional love” of both parents for children, and “God’s love” for us. I thought that paragraph was the best personal theological statement of the evening, perhaps of the convention, and certainly seemed to be Romney’s personal theology. God as literally “Father” and the nuclear family are key cornerstones of Mormon theology.
But how does Romney connect this faith to policy? Not at all, as Joanna Brooks, a Mormon, writes. In her view, Romney failed Mormonism in his acceptance speech as he did not connect his faith commitments to his policy views; indeed, the policy is contradicted by his faith:
“How do individual religious good deeds for the ill, elderly, and vulnerable balance against national economic policies that disproportionately impact the ill, elderly, and vulnerable? How does a presidential candidate who has worked closely with the poor countenance a budget that cuts away, for example, at food stamps while preserving military spending and offering tax cuts to the wealthiest? How do individual acts of mercy balance with international saber-rattling?”
I would also add this contradiction extended to the lack of connection between Romney’s theology and his statements on women. After talking about his mother’s Senate run, and his father’s support of her, he listed women who spoke at the convention and women he had hired when he was governor, and women in mentored in business.
Those sentences contrasted sharply with his tribute to his wife as “I knew that her job as a mom was harder than mine.” Romney said that women can work in business and government, but Mom’s job is best.
The most jarring note in the speech, however, also had faith language. “Americans have supported this president in good faith,” Romney said. The statement was hypocritical about the deliberate obstructionist role Republicans have played in the last four years. From day one, as articulated by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Republicans have been working to make sure President Obama failed.
“Keeping faith” with one another is the religious underpinnings of the social contract, the idea of a common good. The solitary individual as entrepreneur is diametrically opposed to that concept. To say otherwise is hypocritical.
But you simply can’t beat the GOP vice-presidential nominee when it comes to hypocrisy, or as we in the Judeo-Christian tradition like to call it, the ninth commandment, “you shall not bear false witness.” (Exodus 20:16)
Paul Ryan’s speech contained so many untruths, half-truths and misleading statements that the speech as deliberate distortion became a main story after the address. The Washington Post editorial board felt compelled to write on “Mr. Ryan’s misleading speech” and Washington Post opinion writer James Downie called it “breathtakingly dishonest.” Fox News contributor Sally Kohn gave Ryan a “gold” in lying. Kohn wrote that “Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.”
How can Ryan, or any Christian, express their faith in God with one breath, and with the next breath engage in such public falsehoods? What could possibly be the reason for this “bearing false witness” when Ryan’s points could have been made with actual facts?
I have started to wonder whether the sustained and deliberate lying by the Romney campaign, like the repeated falsehoods about welfare to work and Medicare, is part of a “real men don’t care about stuff like facts” narrative that is developing in the GOP. Could it be? Real guys don’t like to be “dictated by fact-checkers?”
The idea that truth telling is something “real men” don’t do doesn’t go well in marriage, let me tell you. And equally ineffective is the “men get respect, women give love” interpretation. Those concepts don’t work in marriage any better than they work in public life.
The Republican platform comes out strongly against gay marriage, though Log Cabin Republicans and young conservatives support it.
After 42 years of being happily married to the same man and, as a pastor, doing a lot of marriage counseling, I can tell you that telling the truth to each other and the equality of give and get of both love and respect for both parties is what makes marriages endure and be happy. That’s simply the case, in fact, in both heterosexual marriage and gay marriage. There’s no difference.
The word “God” came and went in the speeches, it’s true, but to me the most “religious” theme was “American exceptionalism” as presented not only in the GOP platform, as adopted, but also especially in the national security addresses. “American exceptionalism” stripped of all its policy trappings, means simply “God loves the United States best.”
The national security speeches, and Sen. John McCain’s in particular, touted more American interventionism, and that was not contradicted by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in her address.
How could a political convention, with a debt ticker running over their heads, ignore how two unfunded wars exploded the deficit? Ironically enough, the “We Built It” sign, when it was displayed, was directly beneath the debt ticker. It’s the truth. The GOP did build that deficit, and they built it in large part by engaging in reckless foreign wars.
God didn’t do that. Man did.
While “man” as the entrepreneurial individual both at home and abroad, making economies and war with equal world-shaping prowess, meant essentially men, it also often meant “white men” despite diversity on the podium. The attack on an African American CNN camerawoman highlighted the issue of racism among the attendees.
The ascendancy of today’s GOP is largely built on appealing to the white working-class precisely as Joan Walsh explains in her new book, “What’s the Matter with White People: Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was.” This makes racism not only inevitable, but a necessary component of today’s GOP approach. It only took an actor, Clint Eastwood, talking to a chair as a prop for an invisible President Obama, to underscore this in a bizarre way. Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” the iconic 1952 novel that addresses the conflicts of identity and individuality in the African American experience through the metaphor of the invisibility of African American men.
The religious issue that the racial insensitivity raised for me is stated clearly by Walsh: empathy. “I think of all the scarce resources in our society today, I think the most precious is empathy.”
I was frankly surprised that “man” was so much in ascendancy from the first day when I saw the “We Built It” sign at the RNC. For many speakers, “God” was often a phrase mid-way through a speech, though not always.
I especially did not expect the extreme gender stereotypes about “real men” as strong, and women as loving and best when they stay at home to be so clearly in evidence.
But “God” as guiding not only our private lives, but also our public commitments was ignored, if not actually derided. Indeed, faith as central to the support of our social compact took one more hit on the last night of the RNC.
In introducing Cardinal Timothy Dolan to give the benediction, Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Catholic, curiously undercut Catholic theology on connecting faith to the world. Dolan, said Boehner, understood that “the preferential option for the poor doesn’t always translate into a preferential option for big government.” Many Catholic nuns and American Catholic bishops disagree.
When “God” and “man” went to Tampa, it became increasingly clear that “God” is confined to personal and private belief, and “man” as the entrepreneurial individual, straight, white and male, is in charge of public life and work.