I would have suggested to Tina Hampton that a better question is whether the Republicans should be the party that says, where’s the birth certificate? But no one changes minds by questioning first principles, strange as those principles might seem to an outsider.
The belief that President Obama’s birth certificate would lay bare his illegitimacy has already claimed one patriot martyr. This would be Terry Lakin, the
air force army colonel court-martialed in 2010 and sentenced to six months in prison for refusing to report for duty in Afghanistan. Lakin held that the order was unconstitutional, in that it was authorized by an unconstitutional president. When Obama did release his birth certificate, contributions to the Terry Lakin Action Fund faltered. But facts are helpless against faith, and soon “certificate” was appearing in quotes in the e-mail from from the action fund that I receive almost daily. Now Lakin tells his story in Officer’s Oath, a book subtitled, “Why My Vow to Defend the Constitution Demanded I Sacrifice My Career.”
The South Carolina primary deepened my impression that the platform on which the Republican candidates jostle for supremacy is ultimately a theology. There is its scripture, the Constitution, handed down by the divinely inspired Founding Fathers and therefore infallible. There is a son of God, Ronald Reagan, in whose name every candidate promises to serve, and a Holy Mother. "I want to be America’s Margaret Thatcher,” Michele Bachmann told an interviewer. “I want to be America’s Iron Lady.” Said Newt Gingrich, “I think a big mistake on my part was to try to bring in conventional consultants, because I am much like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, I'm such an unconventional political figure that you really need to design a unique campaign that fits the way I operate and what I'm trying to do."
There is no fact that can be cited—not the Iran/Contra scandal, not the tax hike nor the swollen federal government nor the tripled national debt—that sullies Reagan in the eyes of theocratic Republicans. As for Thatcher, I found this tribute on the website Freedom Concatenations: ““Leftists—liberals and democrats in the U.S.—despise her because of her unyielding tenacity to defend freedom and liberty and self-control. She defeated leftistists, and communists, and marxists and liberals domestic and abroad.”
Yet who did Thatcher—in an impressive marshaling of national will—actually defeat abroad? It was a corrupt military cabal of right-wing Argentineans. As often happens among believers, the Republicans seem blinded by their own creeds and dogmas to every human inconsistency that makes their divinities interesting, sometimes even admirable, to the rest of us.
The Republican church imposes an unyielding orthodoxy. Newt Gingrich campaigned in South Carolina as the “Reagan Conservative” carrying the fight to the “Massachusetts moderate,” Mitt Romney. There was a time not long ago when Republicans turned “liberal” into a pejorative that Democrats dropped like a hot potato, repositioning themselves—if they dared—as “progressives.” Now the “moderates” draw the attention of the inquisition. One day, I predict, even “conservatism” will be parsed for doctrinal impurities and “secular conservatism” will go the way of “secular humanism.” That’s when they’ll come for the libertarians, and for every other conservative suspiciously wobbly on the heresy of "live and let live."
The Tribune's Eric Zorn noted that libertarian Ron Paul was booed during a debate in South Carolina when he proposed a “Golden rule in foreign policy . . . Don't do to other nations what we don't want them to do to us." Gingrich, on the other hand, has written a book hailing American exceptionalism, and Romney subscribes to it too. Does the Exceptionalist believe God acts through America, or does he simply believe that we’re bigger and tougher so we get to make the rules? It’s hard to say what’s in the head of each crusader buckling on his armor. All that’s clear that each prefers to be armed and dangerous.
And so it continues, the Republican primaries raging on like a storm out at sea, a dark, shrieking wall of wind, rain, fire, and thunder that exhilarates and delights my Democratic friends. It will remain marvelous to behold until it turns and blows toward us on shore. Then God knows what we’re in for.