Back to decency 

Of course, "decency' now means "hatred'

"It's a great day to be a Republican," I said to a friend the day after the election.

"And a terrible day to be a human being," he shot back.

Indeed, it's the imperfect humans among us, compared to the usually hypocritical arbiters of morality, who are going to suffer most during the next four years. It's no secret that "moral values" trumped every other concern last week. The people who are hurt most by Bush's economic policies and whose children are most often sent to die in the Iraq quagmire overwhelmingly voted for him because, as they reported in exit polls, he was the more "moral" choice.

And the moralists are already chomping at the bit. Remember William Bennett, the former government official and right-wing shill who gambled away millions of dollars after penning the sanctimonious Book of Virtues? Not the least bit humbled by his own clay feet, he described our future with Dubya this way:

"Having restored decency to the White House, President Bush now has a mandate to affect policy that will promote a more decent society, through both politics and law. His supporters want that, and have given him a mandate in their popular and electoral votes to see to it. Now is the time to begin our long, national cultural renewal ('The Great Relearning,' as novelist Tom Wolfe calls it) -- no less in legislation than in federal court appointments. It is, after all, the main reason George W. Bush was re-elected."

It's shocking enough that Bennett calls a 2 percent victory a mandate, and literally advocates legislating morality. But it's obvious that this vision of morality is quite one-sided. It particularly applies to gay rights, abortion and the evil destruction of embryonic cell clusters potentially to save thousands of lives -- all those "wedge issues" Bush worked to such advantage.

"The Great Relearning's" morality clearly doesn't extend to its advocates. Bennett is a compulsive casino gambler. Rush Limbaugh is a drug addict who shows no mercy to other drug offenders. Bill O'Reilly is a loofah-wielding phone sex pervert who shrieks and writes books about family values. Such personal lapses are acceptable among moralists themselves. And it's morally acceptable to lie about tax cuts and the reasons we invaded Iraq. It's OK to create a huge deficit that will burden the next generation. It's good ethics to create a "prescription drug benefit" so costly that you won't let your accountant state the real cost or disclose that the new program doesn't allow the government to negotiate discount prices for volume purchases from pharmaceutical companies. It's OK to brag about creating a program to raise the standards of education and then not fund it. It's morally sound to promote programs that sound like they preserve the environment but actually cut back protections and enrich corporations.

You can gamble, buy drugs and harass women with phone sex. You can lie to the American people while you bankrupt them. But don't you dare touch that cluster of embryonic cells or propose allowing gay people to violate the sacred institution of marriage -- an institution so sacred that 50 percent of heterosexuals abandon it after a few years.

I have never been a Republican, but I grew up in a Republican family and this kind of insanity and hypocrisy were not part of my experience. And I'm not talking your average Republican upbringing. The Eisenhowers and Nixons were regular visitors to the home of an uncle related through marriage. Nixon came to my uncle's funeral. My aunt ran a Republican press in her home and mailed weekly dispatches until the day she died.

Moreover, my family was part of a religious community based on the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, so the practice of blending politics and religion is not alien to me. I remember a particularly wacky argument against welfare entitlements that enlisted a church doctrine. To grant an entitlement, it was explained to me, was to deny the recipient his freedom granted by God. "You mean the freedom to be poor?" I asked. "Yes," a teacher replied with a straight face.

But I never felt anything but love in that community. We didn't live there but a few years of my childhood, but I often say it saved my life. It was the affection of my father's very religious and very Republican extended family that made an otherwise unhappy childhood for an oddball kid bearable. I do not think that had anything to do with the fact that they were Republicans. But being Republican did not require the hateful judgments and effort to control the private lives of citizens that George Bush's base has authorized.

We can take solace in the fact that nearly half the electorate did not align itself with Bush. But there's no denying that the country is drifting further right and is now governed by a single ideology. Like the world Orwell imagined, our bodies and pleasure may once again be subject to the state's control -- to such a degree that William Bennett's use of the word "decency" is clearly code for "hatred."


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