Once, when I was living in North Carolina, I called the office of then-senator Jesse Helms to make a suggestion. I began my conversation with the woman who answered the phone by explaining that I had supported Mr. Helms in the previous two elections, and that in general I liked his politics. She was very friendly with me throughout much of this conversation, and we got along famously for a while. My purpose in calling, I explained, was to make a suggestion regarding the way Mr. Helms approached the question of homosexuality. He was never one to pull punches, and he always said pretty much exactly what he thought, which is a remarkable thing for a politician--to say what one thinks is true regardless of how the statement will be received. I knew some gay folks who were also conservative, and it occurred to me that they might well support Mr. Helms if he just didn't talk about homosexuality so much. It seemed to me he had a choice: he could say the things he always said about gays, and get none of their votes, or he could change his rhetoric a little--not in such a way as to hide his beliefs, mind you, just enough to make his beliefs a little more palatable in some way to a broader audience--and perhaps gain the votes of a few of them.
There was a deafening silence on the other end of the line. "I'll pass your message along to Mr. Helms", the woman said, and she hung up on me. So much for my attempt at Machiavellian manipulation. I'm just an amateur, after all, and I didn't really expect to be taken all that seriously--I just thought I'd give it a try. Because I did, in fact, know quite a few gay conservatives who didn't like Jesse Helms and wouldn't vote for him, even though they wouldn't vote for his opponents either.
I was reminded of all this today because I got an email from Townhall.com letting me know about a new political ad they are pushing. The ad reveals how Barack Obama has sunk to a new low, mocking the Bible and Christian belief. Now this I had to see, so I clicked on the link, and was taken to a YouTube video showing Obama giving a talk in what looks like a Church (though it could be just some large lecture hall with marble columns--hard to tell the difference in some cases). I watched the video all the way through and it became evident to me almost immediately that Obama was mocking neither the Bible nor Christian belief, and that you would have to be pretty much a complete idiot or else on the prowl to catch him out even to imagine that he was doing such things, let alone make an entire political ad to that effect.
Now, I don't have to prove my conservative or Christian credentials to anybody. I am not a fan of Barack Obama or enamored of his oratorical skills, such as they are. His political ideas only stir my heart in the sense that they leave me torn between laughing at how ludicrous they are and crying about how many suckers are being taken in by them. In short, he's not fooling me for a second, and I'm not out to defend him. But it strikes me as insulting to the intelligence to be told that this talk of his, which is essentially about how the Bible is open to interpretation and it is unfair for one side or another to try to lay claim to it in a political context, amounts to ridicule of the Bible or Christian belief. Sure, it's ridicule of some kind, all right, but it's ridicule of the sort of people who read the Bible and their own Christian faith in a narrow, bigoted, and irrational way. It may be the one thing that he is right about--these people deserve ridicule.
Who are the people who think he's ridiculing the Bible itself or Christian faith? The people who made the ad? Surely these folks are too intelligent to think he's really doing what they are saying he's doing. Or are they? I once had a conversation with Lynne Cheney, of all people, back when she was the chairman of the NEH, in which I asked her some questions about the direction of humanities education in America, and I got some incredibly bone-headed political answers in response. Now, she's an educated person, but it was as if she had been programmed only to answer in political jargonics--no thinking on one's feet permitted in certain kinds of contexts, it seems, even if what one happens to be is a professional thinker. So maybe the folks who made the ad really think it's true. If so, they are morons. If not, they are liars. Neither alternative inspires confidence.