The End of Responsibility

I often read John Leo, a columnist for U. S. News & World Report. Leo is both balanced and reasonable. I believe his "On Society" column in the April 25 issue is extremely important. It is titled "The End of Argument." Leo shows that both the left and the right have engaged in a kind of public rhetoric that is growing steadily worse. The left has produced "Kill Bush" T-shirts and various whacky speech that suggests "the pig Bush must die." Some on the right, even Christians no less, have called for the death of Judge George Greer (a Baptist) for his controversial rulings in the Schiavo case. Greer’s pastor wrote him a letter asking him to leave the local church. There was no due process followed (cf. Matthew 18), at least there was none reported.

The present anti-court rhetoric is particularly intense, especially among very conservative Christians. These rumblings promote a kind of tyranny that is frightening. Tom DeLay, who seems intent on making his "hatchetman" label stick, made numerous inflammatory remarks about judges a few weeks ago and then, thankfully, apologized. You might hope for better from ministers but Pat Robertson, never to be outdone in his rhetoric by flaming liberals, has spoken of recent decisions as "medical murder." And the director of Operation Rescue, Rev. Flip Benham, said the courts are a tool "in the hands of the devil."

Leo suggests that most of us are only upset by this vicious rhetoric when it is aimed at our side. The left raises few questions, he notes, when the "Bush-is-a-Nazi" cries grow more shrill. But the responsible right, if there is still one, also said very little when videos were circulated a few years ago (by people like Jerry Falwell) suggesting that Bill Clinton was a murderer.

What is interesting, in light of the harsh anti-Clinton rhetoric, is the quiet and impressive response of the Bush family itself. They have reached out to Bill Clinton and the results are extremely encouraging. A lesson in forgiveness here is powerful beyond many words.

Now Robert Byrd, who can sometimes be the worst of them all in the harsh rhetoric game, refers to the Republican efforts to break the filibuster in the Senate as reminiscent of Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. A friend of mine, on the milder side of the political left, referred to this same filibuster issue as the cause that drove him to openly express his "Christian" outrage because of a gross violation of principle involed in the proposed Republican option. His speech, normally very cautious, took on a tone that I found unfortunate.

Howard Dean, the erstwhile presidential candidate and head of the Democratic Party, now openly calls Republicans evil and says they "are essentially the best propaganda machine since Lenin." Amazing, utterly amazing!!! And you can be sure that the conservative attacks on Hillary Clinton are just getting started. I am already sick of the "get Hillary at any price" response and it hasn’t even begun in earnest.

Is this kind of vile character assassination healthy? I think not. John Leo suggests there are many culprits. The one he cites that most intrigues me is the Internet and big-time talk radio. He perceptively suggests these both "allow all of us to say whatever we like, no matter how crude." Inarticulate and crude people, on the left and the right, dominate a great deal of the present scene. The days of reasonable debate, led by bright and intelligent Christians with well formed conservative views like William F. Buckley, seem to be a voice of a far gone era. What we now have in its place, argues Leo, is "more and more angry feelings instead of rational arguments." 

Christians must repent, and seriously try to do better in the future. Afterall, we are the "salt of the earth." We have a Bible and an ancient tradition that has a great deal to say about our tongue and about appropriate and measured speech. Christian conservatives, and I generally count myself one in broad terms, should work harder than anyone else to clean up this mess since we profess such a high view of the Bible and of the impact of real faith upon everyday life. At this point I do not think we are doing much better than the world, but then we are not doing much better than the world in a whole host of areas that touch upon character and morals.

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