The Demon of the Week is Bob Jones University, a relatively obscure Baptist educational institution in South Carolina that has suddenly become the political equivalent of the hanta virus. New Jersey’s liberal Democratic Sen. Bob Torricelli plans to introduce a resolution condemning the school, and after the unpleasantness attending Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s recent visit, it’s likely no serious politician will ever set foot on its campus again. For the university, that would not be a major loss.
Bob Jones is in trouble because its founder supposedly held that the Roman Catholic Church is a “Satanic cult” and its current rules forbid interracial dating by its students — but mainly because Mr. Bush happened to address the student body there and failed to denounce his hosts to their Satanic faces. The partisan motivations of the ranting about Bob Jones is so obviously naked that it’s pornographic.
Mr. Bush’s chief rival for the GOP nomination, John McCain and his campaign, as well as most of the media have spent the week blabbering and strutting about Mr. Bush’s “insensitivity,” his mindless embrace of the “extreme right” and his own supposed “anti-Catholicism” and racial views — all because he declined to insult his hosts at the university.
What is remarkable about the whole episode is the infantile level of the entire discussion. No one with a mental age over 14 can seriously believe that Mr. Bush is really “anti-Catholic” or condones “anti-Catholicism” or even that “anti-Catholicism” is a serious force in American politics and culture today. Nor can any grown person possibly believe that Mr. Bush himself really agrees or sympathizes with the religious views of Bob Jones or Pat Robertson.
The “religious right” as represented by the university and Mr. Robertson are Mr. Bush’s political allies, as they have been of major Republican presidential candidates since the early 1980s. For all their faults and shortcomings, they have in fact been extraordinarily helpful to the Republican Party, as Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr. and Robert Dole could tell you. Yet today what they get as their reward is at best “distancing” by other leaders of the party and, from Mr. McCain himself, a shrill, rude, gratuitous, insulting and simply libellous denunciation that is transparently the product of Mr. McCain’s political ambitions.
Mr. McCain himself has also been the target of childish slander because of his political associates in South Carolina and his language about his communist Vietnamese captors, while his ally in New Hampshire, former Sen. Warren Rudman, lobs his own foolish charges at Mr. Bush’s allies about being the victim of “anti-Semitism” because of the way Christian Coalition phone callers supposedly pronounced his name. The whole collection of these clowns would be far more appropriate as special guests on the Howdy Doody Show than in serious national politics, but their infantilism betrays one of the major flaws of the Republican mind.
What the Republicans have done is allow the left to dictate what the right should think, say and do. Both Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain have done this, and in allowing it to happen they have contributed to the further isolation of the political right, its further delegitimization and its further political destruction by the left. In a word, by importing left-wing accusations of “intolerance” and “insensitivity” into the GOP campaign, the candidates have split the party in two.
The reason Republicans have done this is that their leaders share or at least are willing to salute the premise of the left — the delusion that “insensitivity” and “intolerance” are serious problems in American life today rather than quaint if often crude remnants of earlier patterns of belief — and are therefore willing to exploit the premises of the left to clobber each other within their own party. By doing so, they seem not so much to think that they will convince other Republicans and conservatives as to imagine that they will impress the leftish masters of the media and the dominant culture.
Of course, that is precisely what the left wants Republicans to do and why it repeatedly instigates Republicans into fighting each other rather than the left itself. And of course, because the Republicans now habitually lend themselves to being so instigated, the GOP is no longer much of an effective political vehicle for the serious American right.
And of course also, given this mentality among Republicans, it never occurs to any of them to challenge the moral legitimacy of the left. If it did, the United States Senate would not be about to consider a resolution condemning Bob Jones University for policies and beliefs that are entirely its own business but would instead be debating a similar resolution condemning the vice president of the United States for meeting with black racial demagogue Al Sharpton.