January 12, 2012

In Which I Agree With *gulp* Gary Bauer (Sorta)

There are few people on the planet that I would say I disagree with more fundamentally – about religion, politics, or ethics – than Gary Bauer. Long a crusader on the religious right (and even a presidential candidate, for a while), Bauer pushes an agenda and holds beliefs that I find odious and disturbing.

‘course, as they say, even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes. Credit where it’s due, Bauer’s found one.

Article 6 of the Constitution states that (emphasis mine):
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Thus, nobody can legally prevent a Muslim, Mormon, or atheist from running for or serving in any political office. The First Amendment bolsters that provision and, through the Fourteenth Amendment, effectively applies it to the states. But it only applies to legal restrictions. What about personal ones. When I go into the polling booth, can I apply a religious test when deciding who to vote for.

Bauer says yes, in a recent USA Today column. And I agree with him, for a couple of reasons.

First, as a practical matter, it’s impossible to police what people think is important to them about a political candidate. As unethical as it would be to not vote for Barrack Obama because he’s black or Hillary Clinton or Michelle Bachman because they’re women, it’s impossible to keep people from making their voting decisions on those grounds. Thus, it seems more than a little pointless to harangue people for something over which you not only have no means to control, but no hope of ever controlling.

Second, Bauer is right that someone’s religious beliefs can say something about them and their fitness for office, although they may not. The important thing is to keep the focus personal, rather than general. The label that one gives to themselves when it comes to religion doesn’t necessarily tell you a whole lot about their view of the proper role of government or how best to solve problems facing the world today. One need only to look at the various flavors of Catholics who pop up in politics to see that being true. Current GOP non-Romney flavor of the week Rick Santorum seems to draw a lot of policy provisions from his Catholic faith, while others like John Kerry come from the same faith and reach radically different positions. In the end, it’s the positions that matter, after all.

That is where, for all his nice talk, Bauer goes wrong, for he does precisely what he argues we shouldn’t and paints with a broad brush:
Though I wouldn't vote for a pagan, I'd vote for a Catholic or a Jew whose policies reflect the traditional understanding of marriage and defend the sanctity of human life much more readily than I would vote for the man next to me in the pew who doesn't support those things.
This after, without any hint of irony, deriding Wicca as “involve[ing] magic, spell-casting and sorcery” (as if a religion involving talking snakes, virgin births, and people who come back from the dead doesn’t). In other words, there are some faiths that are so beyond the pale for Bauer that he wouldn’t vote for a person who espoused those beliefs. That’s silly. I wouldn’t vote for an atheist just because he was an atheist, why should I vote against a Christian, pagan, or whatever simply because they fit into that category?

I wouldn’t, for example, vote against Mitt Romney because he’s a Mormon (although he wouldn’t extend me the same courtesy). I’d vote against him because he’s a feckless flip-flopping douchebag who couldn’t find a principle if it was strapped to the roof of his station wagon shitting down the windows. Two completely different things.

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