By Kathleen Parker
Sunday, January 17, 2010; A23
Tragedy often brings out the best in some people. And sometimes, it brings out the worst.
Please direct your attention to Exhibits A and B, Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh.
No one should be surprised that Robertson invokes God's wrath or Satan's trade-offs when horror hits. Whether it's a hurricane, a terrorist attack or an earthquake, one can be fairly certain that Robertson's Ouija board will point to a supernatural explanation.
Invariably, he blames the victims or some third-party behavior favored by Satan and frowned upon by God. What was behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11? America's moral decay. Hurricane Katrina? Abortion. Haiti's earthquake? A deal with the devil.
"True story," said Robertson on his television program, "The 700 Club." He explained that when Haiti was a French colony, rebels "swore a pact to the devil," saying, "We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.
"And so the devil said . . . ."
Excuse me just a sec while I pause to appreciate this moment. I'm pretty certain this is the first time I've ever quoted Satan. To proceed:
Okay? Deal? But of course the devil would be prosaic.
Ever since, Robertson continued, "they [Haitians] have been cursed by one thing after the other."
How is one to interpret such an assertion? Apparently, Robertson was referring to a voodoo ceremony in 1791 that some historians believe was a spark for the revolution. The call to revolt was issued by Dutty Boukman, a voodoo priest and leader of the Maroon slaves. The resulting uprising, which ultimately led to Haiti's independence, claimed the lives of thousands of colonialists and slaves.
For whose side does Robertson imagine God was pulling? The slave owners'? And does he really think that the devil is collecting on his debt by destroying thousands of lives in the earthquake and maiming countless more?
Robertson's "700 Club" is soliciting prayers as well as donations, some of which will find their way to Haiti's destitute and displaced. But having to hear from Robertson and entertain his devilish interpretations of events is a high price for charity. If the people of Haiti are cursed, as Robertson insists, it is partly the legacy of slavery -- surely the devil's work? -- that is to blame. Earthquakes answer to no demon, and the shifting of tectonic plates should be no mystery to 21st-century man.
In Robertson's literal world of superstition and fear, a fault's rupture may signify a belch of the beast, but in the real world of science and knowledge, it is a natural, if disruptive, occurrence that bears no malice toward any particular man, woman or child.
That we are having this conversation is ridiculous -- obviously, one would hope. That some percentage of the 1 million daily viewers of "The 700 Club" might pray and tithe to the speaker of such bile is far scarier than any voodoo curse.
Equally ill-timed and foolish, if not nearly as insane, were Limbaugh's remarks upon news of the earthquake:
"This will play right into [President] Obama's hands -- humanitarian, compassionate. They'll use this to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community -- in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country. It's made to order for them."
Limbaugh, like Robertson, has been duly condemned for his comments. The fact that he in part was lampooning Harry Reid for the Senate leader's now-famous comments about Obama's light skin (as a political plus) does not diminish the awfulness of Limbaugh's cynicism. What's worse: Reid's antiquated observation that Obama betrays no "Negro dialect" in his diction, or Limbaugh's implication that an African American president, in helping a devastated black population, might be trying to embellish his street cred?
Is it possible that Limbaugh doesn't know Haiti's history also includes the post-slavery oppression of dark-skinned descendants of slaves by the lighter-skinned descendants of colonialists who bred with the enslaved?
Surely, there should be the occasional time and place when circumstances transcend the usual and free us from the race-baiting and ignorance-pandering panhandling that characterizes so much of American politics: When God and Satan are given a holiday from the news cycle. When a president can be granted the pure motives of a good nation. When science isn't an insult to the divine and no demon earns credit for human misery.
Haiti is one of those places. Now should be one of those times.