Before the Civility Fairy Twanged Him with a Wand

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H.L. Mencken once ably described democracy as the art and science of running the zoo from the monkey house. There are placid periods where one is permitted to forget this, but every so often elections happen to us, and everything gets ripe and fruity.

James Dobson took Obama to ask for his comments in a 2006 speech, a speech which Dobson said depended on a fruitcake understanding of the Constitution. Obama fired back, which was probably a bad tactical move, and then Jim Wallis, public scold, weighed in. HT: Justin Taylor

Wallis said:

“Dobson and Minnery’s language is simply inappropriate for religious leaders to use in an already divisive political campaign. We can agree or disagree on both biblical and political viewpoints, but our language should be respectful and civil, not attacking motives and beliefs.”

But this was Jim Wallis back in November, back before the civility fairy twanged him with a wand:

“I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. And this isn’t about being partisan. . .”

Now the most obvious thing to say about Wallis here is that he is being hypocritical. But this would be too easy. A good deal of the evaluation of this kind of thing depends on how accurate someone is. If Dobson is right about Obama’s fruitcake exegesis of the Constitution, which he is, then to say so is not an insult to the Republic. And if Wallis were right about how non-partisan he is being, which he isn’t, then it would be appropriate to say that Cheney is a liar and so on. When John the Baptist confronted Herod with the fact that he had his brother’s wife, that would have been a low blow if John the Baptist had gotten his facts all wrong. But if he was right, as he was, it was not “dirty politics” to say that it was not lawful for Herod to have her.

The problem with contemporary politics is that people strike at one another according to party interests, and not according to the truth. Wallis is a partisan of the left, saying and doing what will help the Democrat get elected. If civility helps the Dems, he calls for civility. If screeching helps the Dems, he screeches. Dobson, on the other hand, has made it plain that he is not going to vote for McCain — he is standing for principle, and clearly not for partisan advantage. He challenges Obama, sure enough, but that does not mean that he is willing to pretend that McCain is a conservative. The truth matters more than winning.

Compromising your principles to win in order to be able to implement your principles is like throwing away the flag you were going to plant on top of the mountain, in order to make it easier to climb the mountain, thereby forgetting the whole reason for climbing the mountain in the first place was to plant the flag. If you give up your reason for doing something — to bring integrity back into politics, say — then why still do it?

And while we are here, on the whole subject of the new trendy confiscatory leftism among evangelicals, let me just point to this. David Field linked to a fine observation from Gary North on “What Would Jesus Steal?”

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