By Brantley Thompson Elkins
Once upon a time, longer ago than I care to admit, the newspaper I worked for sent me to do a story on a meeting of the local chapter of something called MOTOREDE, for Movement to Restore Decency.
The story never ran, because my editor became nauseous from reading it. It wasnt just that the kind of "filth" MOTOREDE wanted to ban included the kind of sex manuals youd give your own daughter, but that these people were totally sick.
Their leader Ive mercifully forgotten his name not only quoted from the Bible about sparing the rod and spoiling the child, but enjoined them to beat their children every day, because children are born sinful and are bound to be up to some wickedness every day even if they arent caught at it.
Of course, these people were defending "family values," just as they were defending "decency." But they had taken something legitimate and turned it into something obscene, far more obscene than anything youll find in Playboy or Penthouse. Their successors are playing the same game today, however much they try to hide it.
Every once in a while, they slip up, like when Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson tell us that the attack on the World Trade Center was Gods punishment for tolerating rampant homosexuality, fornication and womens liberation. Of course, God would never punish us for what these same people or their ilk did to women or blacks or Indians, let alone gays.
Some Baptist church in Topeka sent a team a few years ago to harass mourners at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay kid who was murdered and tied to a fence. They just wanted to bear witness that homosexuality is sinful, they said. So how come that same church never harassed mourners at a Mafia or Hells Angels funeral? Could it be that they dont think those groups are sinful, or just that they know theyd have gotten the shit kicked out of them?
Then there's Trent Lott, caught just recently for the second or third time talking about how much better off the country would have been if Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948. Lott, as Republican leader in the Senate, tried to weasel out of it with the explanation that he was thinking only in terms of Thurmonds alleged support for a strong military and an anti-Communist foreign policy, but nobody with half a brain was fooled
For one thing, Harry Truman was already tough on the Communists. For another, Lott seemed to forget that there was also a Republican candidate in 1948 Thomas E. Dewey. Thurmond ran under the States Rights Democrat (Dixiecrat) banner, and the only issue he ran on was segregation. That didnt mean opposition to affirmative action, an issue for many conservatives today. It meant state-enforced segregation, and denial of the vote and other elementary rights to blacks. Lott surely knew this; he just didnt want us to know where he really stood.
Other right-wing zealots can talk a blue streak about "morality," but their idea of morality is hopelessly trivial. When Billy Graham first heard the Nixon tapes, he wasnt bothered by any of the things Nixon and his cronies were actually doing it was just the four-letter words that upset him. And then it later turned out that Graham himself was on some of the tapes, complaining about Jewish control of the media.
Of course, they're tough on crime, these conservatives. They want more jails, longer sentences, more executions. But only for common criminals. You'll never hear them call for crooked executives like those at Enron or Worldcom to be sent away for a good long stretch, although those uncommon criminals are no better than the street punks who rob little old ladies.
I can respect religious sects like the Amish or Orthodox Jews for being strict about things like sexual morality, because theyre strict about everything. They follow a hard road, and their sense of conservative morality and family values is part of a world view that governs their entire lives.
But for garden variety right-wingers, "family values" mean only the abuse of wives and children, and "decency" nothing but the avoidance of sex and keeping non-whites in their place. Lying, cheating, stealing, even murder are nothing to them by comparison. By their logic, the Borgias were exemplars of "family values," and Hitler and Eva Braun if they never consummated their marriage were "decent."
Theyll rail about the immorality of NYPD Blue, which is one of the most ethical shows on television, condemn Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings for promoting witchcraft and sniff out alleged gay propaganda on Sesame Street and The Teletubbies, but dont seem to be bothered by the TV reality shows where stabbing one another in the back is the only way to get ahead or the kind of video games that promote mindless violence.
Of course, theyre just following the Bible, but even their reading of the Bible seems to skip straight from the Old Testament to the Book of Revelation while leaving out the Gospels. They once used false readings of the Old Testament to excuse slavery, but they had real examples to justify ethnic cleansing (as if American Indians were Midianites or Moabites of old) as well as beating children.
Maybe the only reason they dont hold with stoning sinful women today is that they think Jesus made that the one exception to Mosaic law good thing that Mosaic law doesnt prescribe so-called "female circumcision." But in Florida, they did have the bright idea of forcing women who bore children out of wedlock to publish details of their sexual histories in order to honor the rights of the children's fathers. What next, visitation rights for rapists whose victims would forced to bear their children under stricter anti-abortion laws?
Where it gets really scary is when these people apply their warped ideas to foreign policy. Here I'm not talking about abortion, which is a more difficult matter than either the Pro-Choice or Pro-Life people are willing to let on. Im talking about their obsession with End Times (as witness the best-selling Left Behind books) and looking for signs of the Day and the Hour and the Great Whore of Babylon and the Anti-Christ as a guide to foreign policy.
It started out with the crusade against Godless Communism, of course. Apparently the only thing wrong with the Soviet Union was that it was "godless;" if Stalin had murdered ten million people in the name of God, that would have been okay. The idea of adding "Under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance was to show the "real" difference between "us" and "them." Yeah, human rights and common decency had nothing to do with it.
Anyway, that crusade produced Joe McCarthy, the best friend Communism ever had in this country. Not that there werent any real Communists, like Alger Hiss or the Rosenbergs. But McCarthy wouldnt have known a real Communist if hed tripped over one; all he ever did was give legitimate opposition to Communism a bad name and sanction the idea that all it took to be a good guy was to not be a Commie.
It was a dream come true for Third World dictators like Rafael Trujillo (whose crimes, including raping children, may well have been known to the U.S. senators who sang his praises) and Somozas and the Shah of Iran, not to mention Southern racists who could denounce the Civil Rights movement as Communist-inspired, while defending South Africa's apartheid system as the only thing saving native Africans from the Red Menace.
This kept on up into the Reagan era, in the Conservative love affair with the likes of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and the Contras in Nicaragua. It never seemed to dawn on these Conservatives that Communist insurgency had been moribund for 30 years in the Philippines until Marcos got it going again, or that there never would have been any Sandinistas in Nicaragua if their own ilk hadnt propped up the Somozas for decades. And dont get me started on their contempt for democracies like Costa Rica.
Somewhere along the way, though, this got mixed up with the idea of End Times and a nuclear war with the Soviet Union as the sign of Armageddon and the Second Coming. Moscow was Babylon; Brezhnev (or whoever) the anti-Christ. Only now the Evil Empire is dead, and Conservative fanatics have had to look to Iran or Iraq or the whole Muslim world for fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.
Iraq didn't turn out to be much of an evil empire, but if the Right works hard enough at it (Tom DeLay and his ilk seem to be as eager as Hamas to sabotage any chance of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.), maybe it can create one somewhere in the Muslim world. Imagine one of these nuts in the White House, convinced that hed be doing Gods work by forcing Armageddon. Yeah, nuke Mecca its His will. That'll get the Muslims in the right mood to face the U.S. and the Israelis in the final battle.
If thats the will of their God, may the real God strike him down. Its probably futile to urge these people to read "The World's Last Night," in which Christian apologist C.S. Lewis warned against the obsession with End Times and advised true Christians to go on with their daily lives and leave the Second Coming and Last Judgment to God.
It's probably futile, too, to ask these born-again zealots to look for "family values" in reruns of The Waltons, or even Seventh Heaven; let alone "decency" in the novels of Charles Dickens. Their God is not the God of Love, or even the God of Righteous Judgment, but only a petty deity as small and mean as themselves.
They were loathsome when I first encountered them and theyre still loathsome today.
P.S.: Are you a smug liberal reading this? Read "Why I Hate Liberals."