We have a Jewish Democrat running for Vice-President on what has, at times, appeared to be the “All God, all the time” ticket. Leiberman is a Yale Law School graduate who has taken to telling audiences that “In America, we have freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion”—a statement that is misleading if not downright inaccurate…
We live—as the old Chinese curse predicted—in interesting times.
We have a Jewish Democrat running for Vice-President on what has, at times, appeared to be the “All God, all the time” ticket. Leiberman is a Yale Law School graduate who has taken to telling audiences that “In America, we have freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion”—a statement that is misleading if not downright inaccurate, and one that has long been part of the piety mantra of the religious right. (For the record, Senator Leiberman, there is no freedom of religion unless we have the right to reject all formal religious affiliations. Without personal autonomy, without the right to examine and accept or reject all beliefs, authentic religious experience is impossible.) Leiberman’s public religiosity is evidently part of the Democrats’ campaign to “take God back this time,” as one Gore campaign worker has been quoted.
The same folks who generally can be counted on to decry politically motivated protestations of faith have been generally quiet about Leiberman. With the notable exception of the Anti-Defamation League, they have applied a quite different standard to him than they have applied to folks like Pat Robertson, making one wonder how much of the so-called liberal position is principle and how much merely partisan sniping. At any rate, the excuse is that, unlike the radical Christian Right, Leiberman is not proposing to impose his beliefs on others. He is merely setting a good example by demonstrating that God is still acceptable in the public square.
A recent Doonesbury cartoon got it about right. One of the characters is excitedly telling the others that “God is back. Not the God of Jerry Falwell, but the God of Martin Luther King! Spread the word!”
I guess it really does come down to whose God is being paraded through the public square. Nevertheless, the double standard makes it a bit awkward to explain to my grandchildren exactly why it is that some people who drag God into the public debate to justify their positions on everything from taxes to homosexuality are wrong, while others are simply letting us know where their moral foundations lie.
The topic of double standards, of course, brings me to the curious case of Bobby Knight, who insisted for years that everyone show him a respect that he was totally unwilling to reciprocate. When he was finally fired—years after rational people might have expected him to have been shown the door—an indignant caller to one radio show protested that he was simply trying to teach a young person civility. By being rude, arrogant and incivil. Ah—now I understand!
There are some common lessons to be drawn. Perhaps the saddest is that winning is still the most important thing in America. People who would jump all over Republicans who “used” God to make political points are typically Democrats or Independents who want Gore to win. So they swallow hard and give old Joe a pass. Winning was also the bottom line at IU. While Knight was coaching winning teams, his boorish and childish behavior was just as inappropriate and embarrassing, but University officials looked the other way. It is debatable whether he would have been fired now, appalling as his behavior has continued to be, had he not been losing the last few years.
We tell our children and grandchildren that Americans respect all people of conscience; that our system accords too much importance to belief to allow government or the political system to impose religious tests. We tell our children and grandchildren that it isn’t whether you win or lose that counts, but the way you play the game. We tell our children and grandchildren that in America the same rules apply to everyone.
Who are we kidding?