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Are the Republicans Pushing a Sectarian Christian Agenda?

This is the question being asked by former Republican senator and ambassador John Danforth in today's NY Times. The very "moderate" Republican senator asks about the implications of having the party platform hijacked by Christian conservatives, highlighting the Terri Schiavo case and stem cell research in particular. While Danforth, is a respectable man, his argument falls into citing the usual parade of horribles, and thus deserves little credit.

First of all, even if the Republican party were to adopt policy positions that are the same or similar positions as Christians on moral questions (or any other religious group) and then enacted them, it would not be an establishment of religion. Striking First Amendment fear into the hearts of the nation is lame and dishonest. Shame on him for this stupid throwaway line.

As, Danforth laments, the congressional action to grant jurisdiction to federal courts to hear the constituitonal merits of the Schiavo case usurps traditional state authority, and is somewhat lamentable on federalism grounds. However, except for the Federalist ideologues like myself, federalism has been largely dead for 70 years. For those that advocate the starvation death of Terri Schiavo to cry federalism is dishonest. Now that the wrong party and people are in power, non-conservatives (Republican and Democrat) hate that conservative Christians are in control of the big beast that they created. I agree that Terri's case should have been settled in Florida, and they take most of the blame, but federal intervention on behalf of individuals on any number of levels is very common (remember little Elian!)? Action was taken because this is such a hard case, and hardly a broader precedent for broad federal action over individual health-care directives and end-of-life decisions. Besides, federal laws dealing with particular aspects of these decisions would have a high probability of being found unconstituitonal to begin with under commerce clause jurisprudence, unless they were able to squeeze it in to civil rights statutes somewhere, which is doubtful.

Furthermore, as to Republican action being motivated solely by religious motives, that is an inaccurate description of a movement that claims David Boies, Ralph Nader, Nat Hentoff, Jesse Jackson, and just about every disability rights group in the nation as supporters is hardly just a religious movement.

Additionally, Danforth, citing his pro-life credentials, criticizes his home state of Missouri's ban and criminal penalty on those doing embryonic stem cell research. He says there is a big difference between a cell in a petri dish and a baby in the womb. Ok, but what about the cell in the petri dish, and the cell in the womb? What is the normative distinction? Nice rhetoric, but low on substance. And you certainly don't need to be religious to note the logical similarity, despite the fact that he writes off Missouri's law as simply a manifestation of religious zealotry.

Danforth closes his op-ed with the following lines:

"The historic principles of the Republican Party offer America its best hope for a prosperous and secure future. Our current fixation on a religious agenda has turned us in the wrong direction. It is time for Republicans to rediscover our roots."

So Danforth is calling Republicans back to their historic roots? And what are those? The party was founded by Northeasetern Puritan abolitionists after the demise of the old Whig party which couldn't handle the weight of the great moral crisis of the age -- a problem of human anthropology.

In our day, another crisis of human anthropology exists, and one side seeks to promote an authentic culture of life against a culture of death. And yes, most of these people are Christians. But, so what? Truth is truth and right is right, and you don't need a Bible to figure it out, just some practical reasoning skills.

By ignoring Terri Schiavo and fostering the brave new world, Danforth may wish to get back to the dominant business as usual ethos of the Republican Party for the period between about 1890 and 1980, a party committed to big business, country-club values, loose morals, social darwinism, euthanasia, eugenics, sterilization and isolationism. But that would be a disgrace and scar our nation irreparably. Religious conservatives need not be intimidated by the rhetoric of the Rockefeller Republicans. They are the true heritage and roots of the Republican Party.

UPDATE: Mirror of Justice has two responses (here and here) to the Danforth article worth reading. Some of our arguments overlap, but these are nice ripostes.


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